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A Modern New Theatre for the City of Terrebonne Conveys a Baroque Sensibility While Recognizing the Historical Significance of the Site.

October 1, 2005
by Odile Henault

Project Thetre Du Vieux Terrebonne, Terrebonne, Quebec

Architect Atelier Tag With Jodoin Lamarre Pratte Et Associes Architectes

Text Odile Henault

Terrebonne is one of these typical North American suburbs on the outskirts of Montreal. From the highway, it is difficult to imagine the architectural delights which still stand at its core where the old village used to be. Socially, this is a theatre-loving community who waited a number of years for the Quebec government to commit to funding a new auditorium. A two-stage ideas competition was launched in March 2002 and in July 2002, Atelier TAG1 (in collaboration with Jodoin Lamarre Pratte et associs architectes) were declared the winning team. Not long before, Atelier TAG had won the very first competition they entered on their own, the Chteauguay Municipal Library competition (see CA, November 2004).

Suddenly, Quebec-born architect Manon Asselin and her partner (in life as in business) Katsuhiro Yamazaki have become a force to be reckoned with. They met each other at McGill University although Asselin was a teacher by the time she knew Yamazaki. She had worked in India, studied in the Netherlands and travelled far and wide bringing Atelier TAG a wealth of experience. Yamazaki’s contribution is an ingrained preoccupation with simplicity and harmony derived from his own rich cultural background, having been born in Costa Rica to Japanese parents. The way both view their practice is fairly typical of countries where competitions are the rule: they favour fairly modest projects which they can handle with a small team, and enjoy going into all aspects of architecture from the larger scale of the planning process to the minute scale of the smallest construction detail.

The Thtre du Vieux Terrebonne seemed a fairly straightforward project at the outset; it quickly became much more intricate given the complexity of its site. At the heart of Terrebonne’s old centre, the Vieux Terrebonne, is a remarkable piece of waterfront situated along the Rivire des Mille les. A bucolic island, le des Moulins is linked to the old village by a series of pedestrian bridges along which 19th-century mill structures have been transformed into institutional buildings; this is where the municipal library is located.

The decision to position Terrebonne’s new theatre on what appeared to be vacant land along the Rivire des Mille les was a logical one: the site is centrally located and in close proximity to where the theatre that served the community for many years still stands. At the time the decision was made, however, few suspected the archaeological riches of this particular location where, lying just below the ground, traces of the former church, college and cemetery can still be found. The Vieux Terrebonne, like many similar villages in Quebec, has lost a lot of its past, either through demolition or destruction by fire–a 1922 fire was particularly devastating–and a lot of structures simply disappeared never to be rebuilt. Throughout the years, this land had become a park and a parking lot.

Before excavation started for the building, a team of archaeologists was mandated to dig the area and document it. Where the theatre has since been built, a cemetery–much more important in size than initially expected from archival documents–was exposed. A delicate alignment of light spots installed in the ground along the south faade of the building reminds visitors of the fact that bodies were once put to rest in this particular location. As Manon Asselin puts it: “It was sheer luck we planned the theatre away from the remnants of the most important buildings that had once stood on that site.”

In July 2002, jury members assembled to award the project to one of the four competing teams2 who chose to go deliberately modern despite the strong historical components of the surrounding urban fabric. Respectful of this heritage, Atelier TAG sank the building into the ground to diminish the impact of the fly tower; they also created on the west faade a series of viewing platforms accessible to everyone. It is the generosity implied by these terraces that first caught the eye of some jury members, particularly Andr Shatskoff, President of the Board of Directors and Suzanne Aubin, current Artistic Director of the theatre who spearheaded the project from its very beginning.3 The other strong idea that emerged from Atelier TAG’s entry was the way the inevitable black box was treated: a “monolithic cube,” sectioned off in various places, giving way to large expanses of glass, allowing outsiders to catch a glimpse of the interiors and theatre-goers to view the surrounding landscape.

Preparation of the final project obviously meant a few changes, mostly caused by budget concerns. Atelier TAG chose to apply a strategy whereby inexpensive materials were used in places so that funds could be freed to splurge elsewhere. Perhaps the only part of the project which does not quite live up to the rest is the main entrance, which doubles as a ticketing office, and does not quite manage to prepare one for the theatrical effect of the grand staircase. Once inside the theatre, one is plunged into an intriguing yet slightly disturbing relationship between minimalism and baroque. Most of the public spaces are treated in a modernist style relying on materials such as concrete, glass and wood. Yet the moment one walks into the auditorium, another mood sets in: we are in baroque mode. The overlapping of styles happens in the restaurant area where a giant Philippe Starck-inspired chandelier emerges from a ceiling made of folded perforated metal, evocative of the surrounding landscape.

The colours associated with the baroque mode are dark and subdued whereas the modernist spaces are predominantly white with red accents. The pice de rsistance is definitely the grand staircase–lacquered bright red–that brings people up one floor towards the administrative wing and the rather abstract red bar. Blue is used to lighten up the auditorium while green literally appears on all surfaces of the Green Room. In the public washrooms, red is combined with dark grey in a mischievous allusion to Paris’s Moulin Rouge days.

The technical aspects of the 656-seat hall were worked by Trizart, pioneers in theatre design and responsible for countless auditoria in Quebec. Trizart now works in close collaboration with Octave Acoustique who devised the acoustic panels to be used in this multipurpose space where shows include theatre, varieties, classical music and others. Atelier TAG’s task was to basically dress up the auditorium and give it personality while respecting the technical requirements. They searched for an unusual fabric to cover the walls’ sound absorption panels…and found it. Meanwhile, the reflective sound panels were the results of another extensive search which led Atelier TAG to contract a small Moroccan-owned workshop in Chteauguay. Each one of the more than 300 fibre-reinforced plaster panels used in the amphitheatre was carefully cast, then hand-waxed. The design and making of these panels represents an interesting marriage between low and high tech.

Since its inauguration on October 6, 2004, some of the best names in the Quebec entertainment world have performed in the Thtre du Vieux Terrebonne and have thoroughly enjoyed it. In a way, by choosing to go retro in the auditorium, it is as if Atelier TAG had wanted to recreate the nostalgia and intimacy of the old Terrebonne theatre and dropped it in the middle of their modernist structure. The team is still involved with the City of Terrebonne, having been asked to come up with a proposal to develop the historic potential of the site.

Despite their relative inexperience in terms of built projects, Manon Asselin and Katsuhiro Yamazaki have now managed to create a strong name for themselves thanks to the way they handled their first two buildings, the Chteauguay Municipal Library south of Montreal, and the Thtre du Vieux Terrebonne to the north. In both
cases, they have shown a remarkable maturity for such a young firm. Hopefully, Quebec will launch more competitions so we can enjoy other productions by Atelier TAG.

Architectural critic since the beginning of the 1980s, Odile Hnault spent a number of years abroad as director of two design schools. She has been back in Canada since the summer of 2004 and is currently teaching at the Universit du Qubec Montral (UQM).

1 The letters TAG stand for Technique, Architecture, Graphisme. Atelier TAG was formed in 1997, and their projects include public art, urban design, furniture design and architecture.

2 43 entries were submitted in the first phase of the competition.

3 The idea of a new facility was born in 1993 and a first request for funds was sent to Quebec’s Department of Culture and Communications in 1999.

Client La Societe De Developpement Culturel De Terrebonne

Architect Team Manon Asselin, Katsuhiro Yamazaki, Tom Yu, Andrea Merrett, Marc Laurendeau, Jean Martin, Gerard Lanthier, Guylaine Beaudoin, Irene Nazarova

Structural Leroux Beaudoin Hurens Et Associes Inc.

Mechanical/Electrical Nacev Consultants Inc.

Landscape Atelier Tag With Celine Paradis Landscape Architect

Environmental Graphics Pawel Karwowski

Area 2,632 M2

Budget $8.65 Million

Completion October 2004

Photography Marc Cramer

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