Canadian Architect

Feature

Between the Lines

Croft Pelletier Architectes deftly address historical, environmental and architectural challenges in this library project located in Quebec City.

October 1, 2007
by Canadian Architect

PROJECT BIBLIOTHQUE DE CHARLESBOURG, CHARLESBOURG, QUEBEC

ARCHITECT CROFT PELLETIER ARCHITECTES

TEXT ODILE HENAULT

PHOTOS BENOT LAFRANCE, CHANTAL GAGNON

From 1990 until 2005, the Quebec government launched more than 30 competitions which resulted in almost as many museums, theatres, libraries and other cultural facilities. The 2003 Charlesbourg Library competition was one of the latest in this series of remarkable initiatives–which can be credited for the profound transformation of Quebec’s cultural offerings, not just in its larger cities, but in its more rural areas.

Among these buildings, however, few are located on a site as interesting as the Trait-Carr in Charlesbourg, now part of Quebec City. The challenge for the architectural teams entering the library competition was not just tripling the size of an existing facility and bringing it up to contemporary standards, but also that of creating a building that would be mindful of almost four centuries of history.

As they began working on the competition, Marie-Chantal Croft and ric Pelletier felt prepared and ready. Originating from Quebec City, they had a thorough understanding of the site. A few years earlier, they had, along with Patricia and John Patkau, won the competition for the Grande Bibliothque du Qubec in Montreal. The partnership was to be short-lived, but while it lasted, Croft and Pelletier were to learn a lot about the workings of a contemporary library. In Charlesbourg, given the modest size of the project, they were able to go it alone without having to call in more experienced architects.

The Charlesbourg Library is located on one of Quebec City’s four historical sites. One unique aspect of this site is that it is at the centre of a radial plan laid out in 1665 by the Jesuits, then the “seigneurs” of the area. Individual farms of trapezoidal shapes all converged towards a few acres in the centre, retained for the church, the presbytery and the cemetery.

This unusual land organization, meant to regroup the villagers to better protect themselves in case they were being attacked, was at odds with the long linear settlement pattern then favoured by farmers. Considered to be a unique territorial experiment, it was not reproduced anywhere outside of Charlesbourg. Thankfully, the central area–within what is called the Trait-Carr–escaped the 1960s developers, and remains, to this date, a fragile reminder of what once was.

Bringing back the memory–and actual traces–of the original plan was to be one of Croft Pelletier’s main objectives in responding to the library competition brief. Thus, the gently sloping roof which will one day grow into a hay field–or so the architects hope–evokes the old agricultural pattern which can be seen clearly in an aerial photograph from the ’30s. The materials used–stone and “torrefied” wood–further reinforce the memory of old farm buildings as do the low stone walls, evoking the former property lines around the site.

The green roof also served the architects’ preoccupation with sustainable architecture. Indeed, between the insulating value of the roof and the geothermal system put in place (21 wells measuring 132 metres deep), the library’s energy bill for its first year of operation was half of what it would have been with traditional mechanical systems. Another advantage of this long sloping roof, almost invisible from the north side, is that it softens the impact of the building volume on the site. Inside, it turns into a slanted ceiling hovering over a series of open areas and interconnecting mezzanines.

The library entrance is a small bridge-like affair allowing users to access the building either from the church parvis or from a pedestrian path originating at a nearby croix de chemin, typical of Quebec’s rural and strongly religious past. Additionally, the entrance plays the role of a bridge between the new structure on one side and the 1903 original school building, flanked by its 1984 addition, now mostly occupied by administrative functions.

The reception desk was strategically placed at a point where the entire library seems to unfold ahead. Immediately above the entrance on the top floor, the eye is drawn towards the longitudinal axis which is the library’s main organizing element. It corresponds to the circulation system between the three floors and serves as a separating device between the adult area and the two sections reserved for younger readers–the adolescents have their very own space on a mezzanine above the children’s area. The lowest floor, reserved for the multimedia section, is dug into the ground but without sacrificing any large openings on the south side.

The auditorium (sparsely furnished at the moment), is accessed from the entrance level though small children have their own privileged access to it from the play area. Even infants have been considered in this library with the provision of a breastfeeding corner. This is not surprising, given that Croft was pregnant with her first child during the construction process.

There are two major sources of daylight in the main volume. The first corresponds to a major glass wall where Croft has etched keywords–and their definitions–corresponding to the concepts she and Pelletier used in the design process. The second source of light is both more subdued and more dramatic since it illuminates a thoughtful composition by Quebec City artist Bill Vincent. The piece, entitled Convergences, recalls in its own fashion the history of the site.

Because of its location, this building presented the architects with a triple challenge: historical, environmental and architectural. Croft and Pelletier, thanks to their skill, talent, and determination, managed to address all three issues in a highly successful way. Would this have been possible without a competition? Most probably not. In fact, one can definitely state that the quality of the cultural buildings designed in Quebec since the beginning of the 1990s can be directly linked to the competition process sponsored by the Quebec government.

When they entered the Grande Bibliothque du Qubec Competition in 2000, Croft and Pelletier had dreams of making a major contribution to Quebec’s contemporary architectural scene. They have definitely achieved their goals with the Charlesbourg project.

An architectural critic since the beginning of the 1980s, Odile Hnault spent a number of years abroad before moving back to Montreal in 2003. She works as a writer, professional advisor and occasionally teaches at the Universit du Qubec Montral (UQAM).

CLIENT VILLE DE QUBEC

ARCHITECT TEAM MARIE-CHANTAL CROFT, RIC PELLETIER, RMI JR HOVINGTON, GUYLAINE LEHOUX, JOCELYN MARTEL, ANNIE MARTINEAU, MLISSA ALLARD, DELPHINE BEAUDOIN, MARIE-CHANTAL PINEAU, MARIE IGNACZAK, ERJON LENA

STRUCTURAL/MECHANICAL BPR GROUPE CONSEIL

LANDSCAPE/INTERIORS CROFT PELLETIER ARCHITECTES

CONTRACTOR CONSTRUCTION EBC, MEUBLES FABRICOM

LIGHTING LUXTEC, NRG

SIGNAGE S-PACE SIGNALTIQUE

AREA 4,300 M2 (renovation 1,205 M2; expansion 3,200 M2)

BUDGET $10 M

COMPLETION OCTOBER 2006 (LIBRARY), JUNE 2007 (EXTERIOR)




Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect is a magazine for architects and related professionals practicing in Canada. Canada's only monthly design publication, Canadian Architect has been in continuous publication since 1955.
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