Twenty + Change: Quinzhee, Quebec City, Quebec
Architects can play a larger role for good as chefs d’orchestre, overseeing the consolidation of the urban fabric by taking over abandoned sites.
“Architects have a crapload of responsibility,” says Guillaume Fafard on the phone from his Quebec City office. It’s not a complaint, but a strong-held commitment to one’s métier and to the people directly touched by architecture. The statement also points to the main idea driving Fafard’s firm, Quinzhee, which he founded in 2013: that architecture should be a force for good.
In Quinzhee’s case, this vision entails raising the bar for urban apartments, and improving the quality of life for families who want to live in the downtown core. Fafard and his nine-person team are striving to change the prevailing standard in urban multifamily dwellings, which generally favours developers’ return on investment by cramming as many small units as possible into a single building. Instead, Quinzhee is designing award-winning projects that breathe, and let their owners breathe—literally and figuratively.
“It started when I was looking for a house for myself,” Fafard says. He found that in the city, there were only smaller condos for singles with no outdoor space for kids to run and play. “I didn’t want to live in the suburbs, where there are no sidewalks and people are car-dependent. So we had to change the typology.” The firm found a client who agreed to use an infill site to build six larger apartments, rather than the nine that a typical developer would have constructed. Each of the units has direct access to outdoor areas, and the building includes bike storage instead of a garage. The project—dubbed Triplettes de Jeanne-Mance—has since expanded to 16 units, and while Fafard no longer lives there, two of his friends do.
Fafard feels that architects can play a larger role for good as chefs d’orchestre, overseeing the consolidation of the urban fabric by taking over abandoned sites, but also animating the downtown by designing to attract young families.
Quinzhee’s portfolio shows a holistic and collective approach to architecture and urbanity. There are no gyms or garages that eat up square footage and dollars; instead, individual condos are larger and built for long-term residents, with common outdoor spaces bringing them together.
“We’re the only firm doing this in Quebec City, and we want to prove that there are alternatives to the status quo. But we didn’t invent or re-invent anything,” emphasizes Fafard. “We just started putting into practice a typology where it hadn’t been used before.” One challenge is that developers are worried they won’t get the same return on their investment if there are fewer and larger apartments in a project—and this is also the main reason banks are reluctant to lend money.
But even the banks and developers have begun to see that this shift is a win-win-win. In the meantime, Quinzhee is busy altering the core of the city—one abandoned lot at a time.
This profile is part of our August 2021 feature story, Twenty + Change: Emerging Talent.