Extreme Makeover

Baie-Saint-Paul City Hall, Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec

Anne Carrier Architectes

Sited in the Charlevoix region near Quebec City, Baie-Saint-Paul has long maintained an image associated with its historic houses and picturesque countryside that continues to attract artists and tourists. Over the past decade, Anne Carrier Architectes has collaborated on institutional projects in this tiny municipality by challenging notions of traditional imagery with contemporary architecture. The firm’s previous project, a municipal library completed in 1997, expresses a strong presence with a large glass faade that is particularly inviting during the long, dark, winter months.

Their latest project, the new Baie-Saint-Paul City Hall, was built with very little funding and situated within a context that has deep historical challenges. The building’s site is located on the original historic centre of Baie-Saint-Paul. The residence of the first seigneur1 once stood where the old industrial shed existed.

From the outset, few members of the community could imagine the potential of transforming an old 1960s industrial shed that used to manufacture wooden household products into a major public building for the municipality. With its metal roof and gaudy turquoise sheet metal cladding, the building was gutted, leaving its steel frame and trusses to form the structural foundation for the new building. The sloped roof was removed, but the existing steel trusses remained, thus enabling a new flat roof to be designed. The footprint of the existing building closely corresponded to the programmatic requirements of the new public facility.

The main entry to the building is situated at its eastern corner and is emphasized by a large canopy. Not only does the canopy allow informal and programmed activities to take place underneath a generous overhang, but the device strengthens the overall massing of the building by framing its entrance.

Inside the building, the long thin corridor leading off the Great Hall acts as a spine for a row of offices, encouraging staff interaction. The large windows along this spine permit a visual transparency to the exterior. This glazed extension with new steel columns was added along with skylights that permit indirect natural daylight to enter the building, enhancing the space as an area to exhibit works of art.

The Council Room adjacent to the Mayor’s office has a long, thin, highly expressive, L-shaped band of glass set into an ominous grey wall that provides an element of curiosity for the townspeople. This band of glazing allows those meeting inside the boardroom to entertain a privileged view toward the outside. The slightly sinister form is off-putting: the limited view provided by the band of windows is reminiscent of a viewport from a gun turret or bunker. Nevertheless, the architectonic expression of the massing for the Council Room affords a residential scale that is not entirely out of sync with the surrounding context, given the fact that the exterior cladding is constructed of cementitious panels usually used in residential construction. The colour of these panels, not unlike limestone, attempts to pay homage to the original seigneurie or to the elegance of limestone, and this strategy is deployed to elevate the stature of the building.

To complement the assemblage of the building’s restrained compositional elements, its interior frames opportunities for natural daylight wherever possible as well as capturing the surrounding landscape. Both the banality of its residential neighbours and the idyllic Charlevoix landscape are heightened in contrast to the restrained material palette of the building.

The Baie-Saint-Paul City Hall was built in a very conservative regional setting and within a tight budget. The project demonstrates a sophisticated economy of means and an exuberance of form that is celebratory of the site’s history, and empowers the town with a functional facility rich with architectural discovery.

1 The seigneurial system was introduced to Quebec, New France, in 1627 by Cardinal Richelieu. Land was arranged in long strips, called seigneuries, along the banks of the St. Lawrence River. Each parcel of land belonged to a seigneur, or lord. The seigneur divided land amongst his tenants, known as habitants, who cleared and farmed the land, and built houses for themselves.

Client: City of Baie-Saint-Paul

Architect Team: Anne Carrier, Robert Boily, Jacques White, Bryan Dubois, Caroline Ouellet, Steve Snchal

Structural/Civil Engineer: Gnivar Groupe-conseil (Nicol Girard)

Mechanical/Electrical Engineer: Roche Lte Groupe-Conseil (Jean Bundock)

General Contractor: Qualit Construction Lte (Martin Tremblay)

Budget: $1,700,000

Completion: March 2003

Photography: Benot Lafrance