Good Works: Maison de Lauberivière, Quebec City, Quebec

A large shelter adjacent to downtown Quebec City resulted from a decade-long co-design process.

PROJECT Maison de Lauberivière, Quebec City, Quebec

ARCHITECT Lafond Côté Architectes

TEXT Olivier Vallerand

PHOTOS Charles O’Hara, unless otherwise noted

The new building offers a full range of services, including a day centre, food services, night shelter rooms, and transitional housing apartments.


When talking about Lafond Côté’s design for Lauberivière, a large shelter for unhoused people in downtown Quebec City, founder Anne Côté notes that visible homelessness seems like a recent fact in the provincial capital. Her observation points to changing patterns of homelessness, but also to evolving understandings of how to support unhoused people—including rethinking how architects can be involved. 

As the Canadian Centre for Architecture’s 2019 documentary What It Takes to Make a Home discusses, in recent years architects such as Michael Maltzan have explored designs that move away from trying to blend shelters into their surroundings. Instead, they are looking to formally express the importance of providing well-designed spaces for people transitioning back into traditional housing. In that spirit, the new Lauberivière towers over an elevated highway accessing Quebec City’s historic and legislative cores, unapologetically claiming space in the city for marginalized people.

The building makes use of its sloped site to create entrances for different client groups, while an offset volume creates a terrace for use by employees.


Lafond Côté was involved in an earlier project to renovate Lauberivière’s original space. The new building, which followed from that work, was designed over a decade. During that time, Côté and her team volunteered in all of the organization’s different services to fully understand the needs of both the people it served, and the volunteers and employees who help them. To rationalize internal operations, the site’s topography was used to create independent access to each service, from a new 24-hour sobering centre opening to the lower street, to transitional housing apartments at the top, with a day centre, food services, legal and financial services, and night shelter rooms in between. This allows clients to directly reach the area most relevant to their current needs—while avoiding interaction with people they may feel they share little with at the present point in their lives. Stacked vertically, the services also shape the elevations, with window sizes expanding towards the top of the building.

The building envelope also reflects financial, technical, and environmental innovations developed by the client, the not-for-profit housing resource group that advised it, and the architects. To limit long-time maintenance costs, the team decided to aim for a high-performance, energy-efficient building. As part of this effort, they developed a new type of aluminum-cladding system, with research funded by an Alu-Québec/Société d’habitation du Québec grant that also helped subsidize construction costs. The new panels are inspired by the traditional tôle à la canadienne construction technique, in which small metal roofing shingles are interlocked to resist heat expansion and contraction. Compared to the traditional material, the new panels, intended for walls, are larger and thinner, reducing structural loads and installation time. 

Metal screens with silhouettes adorn the building, and are set atop a façade of high-performance, low-cost aluminum façade panels developed for the project.


The material innovations continued with the choice of an economical alloy, rarely used for anodized aluminum because of its unreliable colour. However, for Lafond Côté, that diversity of shades was appropriate to this project, as it offers subtle visual texture and conceptually reflects the diversity of users. Metal screens adorned with silhouettes of human figures further add to the composition of the façades, while lending shade and privacy to the common rooms.

Inside the building, the team focused on providing dignity and safety for the clients, volunteers, and employees. Instead of large dorms, quieter individual single-night rooms ring the middle floors, surrounding a core of community rooms and services. In collaboration with the client, the architects designed a door handle that safely keeps doors open at night to facilitate interventions, and shuts them during the day, indicating when rooms are ready to be cleaned. The rooms have angled windowsills to prevent guests from climbing outside, and are designed using temperature-resistant materials to facilitate heat treatment when bed bugs are detected. 

On the ground floor, the dining room and kitchen are lined with windows to provide natural light to clients, staff, and volunteers participating in Lauberivière’s meal programs. Photo by Lauverivière


Another major improvement from the previous location is the light-filled dining room served by a full commercial kitchen. The latter is equipped with biomethanization systems that recover energy from food waste. Volunteers who help prepare the 350 meals served each day—including some who previously used Lauberivière’s services—now enjoy a daylit space with views to the outside.

Last November, Côté and Élodie Simard, who coordinated the energy performance aspects of the project, presented Lauberivière at Architecture sans frontières Québec (ASFQ)’s first symposium on homelessness and architecture. Building on initiatives like Jill Pable’s Design Resources for Homelessness website, the symposium was organized to launch a new catalogue of promising design strategies compiled by ASFQ, in which Lauberivière features as an example of a building where intimacy gradients are used to help clients feel at home. 

In its publication, the ASFQ is careful to underline that talking about “good practices” around homelessness can be misleading, as it implies that tested solutions can be applied everywhere. Instead, as Lauberivière—and Lafond Côté’s larger portfolio of community projects—highlights, to be successful, such spaces must aim for co-design processes that recognize the diversity of unhoused people and the necessity of unique solutions adapted to their needs.

Olivier Vallerand is an Assistant Professor at l’École de design, Université de Montréal.

CLIENT La Maison Lauberivière | Technical Resource group Action-Habitation de Québec | ARCHITECT TEAM Preliminary Studies—Mario Lafond, Anne Côté; Conception—Élodie Simard, Francis Fortin; Execution—Élodie Simard, Francis Fortin | STRUCTURAL Cime | MECHANICAL/ELECTRICAL Génécor, Poly-Énergie | LANDSCAPE Duo Design | INTERIORS Lafond Côté architectes | CONTRACTOR Construction Richard Arsenault| Energy Efficiency Écohabitation | AREA 10,551 m2 | BUDGET $23.5 M | COMPLETION June 2021

Thermal ENERGY Demand INTENSITY (ACTUAL) 17 kWh/m2/year