Saint Matthew’s Parish Church of Puvirnituq

ARCHITECT Marc Blouin, Architecte
LOCATION Northern Village of Puvirnituq, Nunavik Territory, Quebec

The Puvirnituq Anglican parish seeks to reconcile the traditional religious values of the community and the iconic representation of the church to create a visual and spiritual beacon for the village. 

The church is located in the heart of the village and will be built adjacent to an existing church, which will then become a community centre annex in the second phase of the project. The community square, whose stairway gives onto exposed rock, will become a dynamic public space that will also accommodate snowmobiles and other vehicles.

Resting on wood railings, the lightweight structure anchors a delicate metal skin. Translucent and luminous walls and wood beams are painted white, and close off both ends of the church, heralding its presence in the boundless landscape. 

Entering the church and standing under the white vault is like inhabiting the interior layer of a shell that seems to have been carved out of the icy snow itself. The channels of light that pierce through the vault reveal the thickness of the structure, creating a sanctuary for contemplation that is removed from the outside world. With its simple lines and isolated ample volume, the new church will be equipped with a heating/natural convection heat-recovery system in which the bell tower will act as a withdrawal chimney. The volume thus becomes a modern interpretation of the igloo. The church will be a wood/steel hybrid structure with prefabricated insulated floor panels, exterior walls and a roof-panel system. A local labour employment plan will guarantee that a maximum number of resources from the community will be involved in this major parish project.

The firm’s involvement in several cooperative public-housing projects in Nunavik and Puvirnituq led to this project, which began in 2008 and has benefitted through long-term planning and fundraising.

WF A beautifully considered exploration of the evolving possibilities of spiritual architecture in the Canadian north. It is interpreted in a language drawing on nomadic roots, to posit future meanings for the building typology in an evolving native culture. The building forms, construction and materiality have the lean tautness required in a land and culture of limited resources and vast distances.

DN This project stands in contrast to many other submissions that seemed cliché in the expression of First Nations cultural elements and site. The drawings express a simplicity of form and rigour with respect to the religious icon of the church steeple and how it flows into the walls and roof of the building. The honesty in the expression seems appropriate in this small northern community.

PS There is a subtlety to this project which deserves merit. Although imbued with a stylized western symbolism, this project is appreciated when held up against a number of other northern works that were submitted. There is little attempt to appropriate native symbolism as a tack-on to contemporary technologies. Rather, the project–and I have to assume the architect as well–attempts to learn from a lightness of indigenous approaches to building that inform how we inhabit structures and places. Embedded in the work is a soft attention to detailing, light and ground that promises a strong experiential quality. 

CLIENT Saint Matthew’s Parish Church of Puvirnituq
ARCHITECT TEAM Marc Blouin, Philippe Nolet, Sylvain Bilodeau, Maxime Héroux, Kim Pariseau, Julie Marchand, David Giraldeau
LANDSCAPE/INTERIORS Marc Blouin, Architecte
AREA 515 m2