Justice Served

Project Courthouse Expansion and Renovation, Trois-Rivieres, Quebec

Architects Cote Chabot Morel, Architectes; Emile Gilbert Et Associes, Architectes; Francois R. Beauchesne, Architecte; Raymond Bluteau, Architectee

Text Ian Chodikoff

Not exactly on the global architectural map, the town of Trois-Rivires (pop. 125,000) is known for such attractions as cruises along the St. Lawrence River, a Museum of Quebec Folk Culture and an interpretive centre for pulp and paper. However, a recent courthouse facility located in the historic part of the city has rejuvenated Trois-Rivires with a contemporary facility through the help of an architectural consortium led by Ct Chabot Morel, a Quebec City firm founded in 1963. Redefining how justice is served in a small municipality–the major centre for the Mauricie region–this new facility provides greater visual transparency of the legal and judicial process while improving visual security and administrative efficiency through its refined architectural expression.

The original building was constructed in 1821 and was rebuilt after a major fire in 1913. Expanded in 1936, the courthouse is comprised of two two-storey volumes anchored by a large rotunda with a monumental staircase. Flanked by a cemetery on one side and the city’s art museum on the other, the project’s challenge was to insert a contemporary building that was sensitive to the original structure while contributing to a more attractive and animated urban environment at street level.

Because of limited space, the services of the Ministry of Justice could no longer be accommodated in the existing courthouse: the facilities were simply out of date. Security for both judge and jury were inadequate while various legal functions were housed in several nearby buildings. The courtroom, jury rooms and waiting rooms were too small while the office space for the various clerks and administration staff were housed on different floors. In 2001, the decision was made to enlarge the existing facilities to a total of 5,625 m2 on four levels. The renovation of over 4,172 m2 comprised the existing courthouse and the provision of new electronic infrastructure including facilities to accommodate video appearances by witnesses. The scope of services also included a major upgrade to the mechanical systems for the entire building as well as a reconfiguring of the at-grade parking facilities.

The work for the project was completed in two phases. The first phase related to the expansion and the second phase was devoted to the renovation of the existing building. This allowed the facility to operate continuously throughout the construction process managed by the SIQ (Socit immobilire du Qubec) through a fast-track, sequentially tendered process where the design and construction processes overlapped.

As a nod to the existing structure, the fenestration pattern and massing of the new building were designed in response to the articulation of the original courthouse. Another major challenge was to line up the existing floors with the new structure while taking into consideration new mechanical requirements. Using a limestone similar to the original structure, the fenestration pattern on the new building takes inspiration from the original building, resulting in deeply recessed windows that create an exterior wall with incredible visual depth while acknowledging that the limestone is a veneer and not load-bearing. The frieze of the heritage component of the building is visually reinforced through the use of copper on the new addition, most notably the entrance canopy.

The architects were very conscious of their attempt to represent the transparency of justice while addressing a dialogue between the functions of this public building and its immediate environment. Vertical screens used by the architects provide visual depth along much of the large expanses of glazing while visually protecting the judges from those situated outside the courthouse. Screening was used in other areas of the building to create discreet yet effective visual separations between magistrates and the general public. In the magistrates’ offices for example, an aluminum screen was used to create a more intimate space and a similar aluminum screen was used to cover the glass walkways linking the visitors’ seating areas. The interior spaces are efficient and simple with wood and bright airy spaces designed to provide a sense of calm, yet judiciary firmness to this delightful new addition. The use of benches on the exterior building reinforce the public qualities of the architecture, as well as preventing vehicles from driving into the courthouse’s public gallery. Overall, this new courthouse gives confidence to the historic centre of Trois-Rivires and entrenches the city’s position as a cultural and administrative centre in Quebec.

Client Societe Immobiliere Du Quebec

Architect Team Emile Gilbert, Pierre Morel, Mathieu Morel, Francois R. Beauchesne, Melanie Bergeron, Marie-Claude Binette, Raymond Bluteau, Annick Brascoup, Jeremie Guay, Martine Hubert, Marie-ve Lachapelle, Jacquine Lorange, Robert Maillot, Regis Morasse, Guy Pageau, Brigitte Roberge

Structural Ims Experts Conseils

Mechanical/Electrical Consortium Ims–Dessau Soprin

Contractor Construction G. Therrien Inc.

Area: 5,625 M2

Budget: $18.5 M

Completion April 2004

Photography Marc Cramer Unless Otherwise Noted