Go with the flow

PROJECT Saint-Germain Sewers and Aqueducts, Saint-Hubert, Quebec
ARCHITECTE ACDF* architecture (allaire courchesne dupuis frappier_architecture_urbanisme_intrieur)
TEXT Ian Chodikoff
PHOTOS Marc Cramer

Designing a facility to manufacture and warehouse sewer pipe is not one of the most compelling design commissions that comes to mind for an architecture firm. But here, a clear architectural vision has resulted in a successful industrial building in a semi-industrial landscape.

The new headquarters for St-Germain gouts et Aqueducs (Saint-Germain Sewers and Aqueducts) was completed in the fall of 2008 by ACDF* architecture, a Montreal-based firm that was formed in September 2006. Comprised of wunderkind architects along with more experienced practitioners of the Montreal architecture scene, ACDF* is a firm whose name is derived from the initials of its founding partners: Sylvain Allaire, Guy Courchesne, Benoit Dupuis and Maxime-Alexis Frappier. Since the firm was established, it has already grown to over 45 people.

Much of Sylvain Allaire’s experience comes from an even larger Quebec architecture firm that is virtually unknown in the rest of Canada–ABCP architecture. Along with Serge Perras, Guy Courchesne was one of the founders of ABCP architecture and was responsible for business development before moving over to ACDF*. The third founding partner, Benoit Dupuis, earned many design accolades with his then-partner Jean-Pierre LeTourneux while at Dupuis LeTourneux architectes, a firm which dissolved in 2006. The fourth and youngest member of ACDF* is Maxime-Alexis Frappier. Frappier, 32, graduated in 2000 from Universit de Montral with Dupuis as his thesis advisor. He worked with Saucier + Perrotte architectes before founding ACDF*.

Frappier was the partner in charge for the Saint-Germain commission. His team’s challenge was to design an industrial building that would reflect the sublime qualities of the surrounding landscape. Established in 1953, the family-run manufacturing company is well-known throughout Quebec for its sanitary pipes and guttering. Requiring larger facilities, they purchased a site in Saint-Hubert, located just east of Montreal, in June 2007. Situated between a highway to the north, a railway to the south, and wedged between ex-urban farmland and single-family residential houses, the site offers very good access to highways to keep the merchandise flowing to their customers on a regular basis.

The new facilities stretch the entire length of the site. Addressing the wind conditions from the northeast led to “eroding” one area of the faade to allow breezeways into a semi-protected courtyard, a gesture resulting in a more contemplative sense of place within this challenging industrial landscape. Other initiatives to help entrench the building in its site include the reintroduction of locally found wild grasses and the use of reclaimed wood for the exterior siding. According to the architects, incorporating wood into the design provided an opportunity to acknowledge the forest that once existed on the site. While inventing such a narrative could be considered frivolous, the attempt to imbue a sense of natural history into what is essentially a banal suburban industrial site is certainly an effort worthy of recognition.

One of the most striking features in this building is the large rainwater catch basin (water is fed by rainwater run-off from both the site and the building’s roof) which acts as an elegant reflecting pond, further emphasizing the company’s connection to the large-scale treatment of water. Because the building is sited adjacent to the reflecting pool, various reflections–both during day and night–help modulate the visual appearance of the large expanses of glass, wood and metal, communicating an aesthetic variability to this otherwise prosaic industrial shed-type building.

The program for the new operations can be divided into four key areas: management and administration, warehousing, external storage areas, and manufacturing. Staff and visitors enter the building by means of a concrete walkway that extends over the basin. The walkway is thin and planar, emphasizing the depth of the reflecting pool. It is at the building’s entry where there is a visual convergence of the metal-clad warehouse with a view into the storage facility and the wooden administration wing.

Maintaining consistency in materiality throughout the building helps to blur the distinction between inside and outside spaces, which is accentuated by the openness in plan, sliding interior walls, and the addition of windows wherever possible. Furthermore, large overhangs and recesses, complete with wood soffits, help define the entrances and glazed openings while providing protection from sun and wind.

As one would expect, the aesthetic of the warehousing operations is thoroughly utilitarian–wide aisles, concrete flooring, giant shelf structures, and forklifts. What makes this warehouse different is the addition of large floor-to-ceiling glass walls offering natural light and views to the landscape beyond, thereby creating a display window to visually showcase its products to anyone driving past on the nearby highway.

The manufacturing facility has yet to be fully completed, but in time, it will provide an anchor to the southern component of the site, unifying manufacturing with product distribution and the functions of the company’s corporate management. But the precedent on the site has been dutifully set. The linear shape of the building, combined with the modification of the landscape, evocatively expresses the company’s corporate identity. This project presents the sublime possibilities of industrial architecture, and oddly enough, the visual identity of a company whose primary business is to bury its products underground. CA

Client St-Germain gouts et Aqueducs
Architect Team Maxime-Alexis Frappier, Benot Dupuis, Sylvain Allaire, Guy Courchesne, Joan Renaud, Gabriel Villeneuve, Robert Dequoy, Mathieu St-Hilaire, Denis Dupuis, Luis Maria Arias Duque, Marc-Olivier Dion, Denis Lavigne, Sophie Leborgne
Structural Mtaux-Spec Inc.
Mechanical L&P Lavalle Inc./Aro-Mcanique Turcotte Inc./Gicleurs Acme Inc.
Electrical Groupe Sermax Inc./Dimension Plus
Landscape ACDF* architecture + Entreprise Michaudville Inc.
Interiors ACDF* architecture
Contractor Construction Tigre Inc.
Area 50,000 ft2 total (10,000 ft2 admin)
Budget $5.5 M
Completion Fall 2008