Canadian Architect

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Spa Le St-Jude

December 1, 2012
by Canadian Architect

ARCHITECT T B A | Thomas Balaban Architecte
LOCATION Montreal, Quebec

The St-Jude Spa and Wellness Centre is housed in the decommissioned structure of the Dominican church and sanctuary to Our Lady of the Rosary and to Saint Jude, a turn-of-the-century stone, brick and steel structure occupying a busy stretch of rue St-Denis. Situated at the heart of one of Montreal’s more vibrant districts, the adaptive reuse project for a neighbourhood spa, fitness centre and restaurant conceives the reintegration of the dormant structure into the daily ritual of the district’s community. 

Programmatically, the project combines a Nordic spa, gym, health facilities and a restaurant, all functioning nearly 24 hours a day year-round. Given the stereotypes often attributed to the program, it is hard to ignore a connection between the original vocation of the church and its new vocation of body worship. Outside of a few tongue-in-cheek moments such as housing the massage rooms in the place of the original altar, the project attempts to eschew the notion of the contemporary spa as a destination for seclusion or contemplation, offering up instead the idea of the hydrotherapy spa as a space for the community. By interweaving spaces and juxtaposing functions common to the various programmatic elements, the project promotes social interaction over the creation of personal bubbles. 

The project resists the urge to insert a contrasting, solitary object into the hollowed-out church. Instead, the assembly nestles itself deep into the existing shell. The church interior is divided into two levels that orchestrate a fluid series of ritualistic experiences through distinct program loops. These loops interconnect and overlap at a series of opportunistic pockets cut out of the program’s mass. These pocket spaces celebrate unique moments native to the original structure. Stairs, corridors and communal spaces are oriented towards and locked onto the church’s existing windows. Spaces intersect and slip into each other. Walls are dissolved through the use of glass partitions, connecting views to the adjacent spaces. The configuration ultimately facilitates serendipitous encounters and catalyzes human relations.

DC: This is a refreshing solution for the “elephant in the room” of decommissioned, unprogrammed church structures often left stagnating in neighbourhoods across the country. The deft sequentially based hierarchy of program and circulation adapt tactfully throughout the space, in full awareness of the residual meaning of the original church–thus offering a deeply layered experience playing on aspects of ritual. The full-span steel structural insertion provides a welcome syntax of the load-bearing-free new space against the earth-bound masonry of the old structure.

MCC: The conversion of the existing building into a spa is unusual, but the intervention is quite sensitive and will not alter much of the original structure. The new and old components have an interesting dialogue through interconnected spaces and continuous views, and the simplicity of the interior along with a restrained material palette is harmonious with the more detailed architectural vocabulary of the church.

BH: The older parts of this country are dotted with extraordinary churches, many of whose community of users are now shrinking. This creates the challenge of reusing architecture that is highly formally specific, and inherently less flexible. We were excited by the possibilities of this precisely detailed project and respectful of the careful balancing of modern insertions and existing church volumes. This project could provide a benchmark for the adaptive reuse of these important public buildings across the country.

Client Aquaeris
Architect Team Thomas Balaban, Justin Boulanger, Naomi Frangos, Maxime Lefebvre, Julia Manaças, Elliott Sturtevant, Jennifer Thorogood
Structural Ivan Hébert-Croteau
Mechanical/Electrical GRV Experts Conseils
Contractor Construction de Laberge
Area 1,570 m2
Budget $2.65 M
Completion January 2013




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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