Canadian Architect


Theatre Espace Libre

May 1, 2006
by Canadian Architect

Architect Lapointe Magne Et Associes

Location Montreal, Quebec

Since 1981, the Thtre Espace Libre has made a former fire station its home, located on a tight corner site at the foot of the Jacques-Cartier bridge in the east end of Montreal. It lies between a residential neighbourhood and the former Parthenais Detention Centre–now converted into an office building. Having outgrown its space years ago, this expansion and renovation provides an expressive and efficiently organized home for three resident theatre companies–Espace Libre, Nouveau Thtre Exprimental and the Compagnie de Mime Omnibus.

The fire hall is a small but important landmark in this working-class neighbourhood, and as such, project architect Michel Lapointe wanted to maintain the original “feeling and characteristics” of the 1903 building while also creating additional space. The architectural intervention doubles the size of the theatre. Performance, rehearsal and administrative spaces are organized vertically within the shell of the former fire station. The architects added one floor below grade that contains storage, technical spaces and public washrooms, while also adding an additional floor above the existing building to accommodate offices and two rehearsal rooms that double as performance spaces. The main performance theatre occupies the entire ground floor, and is accessible from the street through the former garage doors, or through a new entrance at the side of the building.

The building’s new third storey is set back from the main faade, and is capped with a cantilevered roof that juts out over the brick-faced top storey of the fire house. The simplicity of the building’s rectangular volume efficiently organizes the theatre and its construction while the building opens to its surroundings with a textured glass faade on the southern orientation. Exposed concrete structural and subdividing elements and stair towers provide thermal mass and acoustic control for the building.

Savings will be realized in heating, cooling and operation through the implementation of ventilation and mechanical systems that respond to climate needs only when a space is in use. Natural ventilation is available, as all windows are operable, and the south stair is designed as a naturally ventilated temperate zone to act as a buffer between the exterior and the theatre space.

Mario Saia: Bold but not out of place, this theatre creates a strong presence in a neglected neighbourhood. It offers a clever solution to the demands of combining two theatres and two structures–a former fire station and modern extension–into one. Jurists were very impressed by the overall positive impact of the building.

Client Espace Libre

Architect Team Michel Lapointe, Benot Forcier, Donald Marquis, Patrice Mcinnes, Christian Desmarais, Alain Desforges, Richard Szczawinski, Stephane Rasselet, Frederic Dube, Michle Mallette, Renald Caron

Structural/Mechanical/Electrical Gemec

Interiors Lapointe Magne Et Associes

Acoustics Octave Acoustique

Art Installation Guy Pellerin

Area 2,095 M2

Budget $3.2 M

Completion August 2002

Photography Michel Brunelle

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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