Setting Up Shop: Grand Marché de Québec, Quebec City, Quebec

A 1920s exhibition hall finds new life as a spacious urban market.

The Grand Marché is modeled on a traditional village, with a shop-lined main street and central square.

PROJECT Grand Marché de Québec, Quebec City, Quebec

ARCHITECTS Bisson associés + Atelier Pierre Thibault

TEXT Olivier Vallerand

PHOTOS Maxime Brouillet

Public markets conjure up ideas of community and exchange, of a dynamic urban life. Local governments have increasingly invested in creating new markets and supporting existing ones. Doing so builds on renewed interests in the benefits of eating local products, and strengthens the relationship between urban and rural communities.

In recent years, the Quebec City municipal council has transformed its foodscape through two significant steps. The first was building a permanent structure, designed by Fugère architecture with an original concept by CCM2 architectes, to replace the tents of the Sainte-Foy Public Market in the city’s southwest. The second was moving the Old Port Market from the tourist-oriented Vieux Québec to a new location close to the central city, at the junction of the Limoilou and Vanier neighbourhoods.

Bisson associés and Atelier Pierre Thibault, in joint venture, were tasked with the design for the Grand Marché, situated on the former agricultural fairground now known as ExpoCité. They were asked to transform the Pavillon du commerce (originally known as the Pavillon de l’industrie), a vast exhibition hall designed in 1923 by architect Adalbert Trudel and engineer Édouard Hamel. Following the decline of the fairs, the vast space—120 by 60 metres with 12-metre-high ceilings in the centre—had most recently been used as a go-kart course. Adaptively reusing the pavilion was a natural fit, providing an occasion to restore the heritage building, whose form echoed the traditional market halls found in European cities. The redevelopment of the ExpoCité grounds had already begun with the 2015 addition of the Centre Vidéotron stadium, and the renovation of other historic halls. The Grand Marché was envisaged as another anchor to boost activity on the site.

Glass entrance vestibules mark the transformation of the former exhibition hall into a contemporary market.

Design lead Pierre Thibault, project lead Jonathan Bisson, and their team developed a conceptual approach that builds on the elegance and lightness they perceived to be still present in the heritage structure, despite years of neglect. The building’s large scale and clerestory windows gave the impression of being outside, leading Thibault to imagine the market as a “roof floating above an open space,” with a main street and public square. Echoing the layout of a small town, the composition would make a direct reference to the rural areas from which many of the market’s products come.

Shops are housed in one- and two-storey wood-clad boxes that step in and out from the circulation paths.

The concept allows for much flexibility—an asset in a long process of developing the program with the producers’ cooperative, and an attribute which will likely contribute to the market’s longevity. The current layout groups the farmers’ simple stalls on the south side, next to large sliding doors. The side façade had once accommodated fair stands and doors that were shut at some point in the building’s history, and is now reactivated by the reopened entrance and farmers’ market. The central “main street” is lined with a series of one- and two-storey shops, and topped with new large skylights. Flanking the “public square,” oversized wooden steps lead up to the second level, which includes a restaurant and other food-related services. On the north side, a service alley subtly (and wisely) positions the loading docks, service spaces, and shared warehouses outside of the main circulation path. Like at a traditional market, smaller deliveries to the stalls can also occur from the south doors.

Farmer’s market stalls are designed as minimalist cubes along the market’s south side.

A concept built around distinct structures in an open space allowed the team to circumvent some of the structural and budgetary constraints linked to adapting the historic structure. For code and structural reasons, anything new needed to be an independent structure. A new foundation slab supports the autonomous new elements, with the existing building acting as an umbrella hovering overhead. The original mezzanine floor has been removed, and a series of large concrete buttresses now supports the eastern and western end walls—one of a very few major additions to the original structure.

The hall’s original mezzanine was removed, and concrete buttresses added to support the eastern and western end walls.

Material choices further underscore the approach of creating pavilions in an open space. The wood used on many of the new surfaces contrasts with the heritage brick walls and steel structure. The existing steel is painted dark grey, and new steel painted white to express the structural transformations—a decision that is especially welcome in places where the structure is doubled. The second-level walkways are painted white; although in some areas, this gives them a visual presence that distracts from the wood retail volumes.

The second floor includes family and event spaces.

Early in his career, Thibault had worked on the predecessor market in the Old Port, which was designed to prioritize logistics, access and delivery. By contrast, the new Grand Marché is primarily envisioned as a destination—an attractive, stimulating space for people to rediscover local food. To this end, the market includes performance spaces and educational installations, such as an aquaponics system maintained by Laval University for both training and research. The building also includes an on-site composting system, helping to showcase the impact of human production and consumption.

New skylights bring in a good amount of overhead light, essential for the trees and vegetation that border the interior streets. Designed to reflect the diversity of the boreal region, these gardens also required particular attention to the colour temperature of the building’s artificial lighting.

Connections between indoors and outdoors continue on the west side, where a glass-enclosed lobby and restaurant terrace expand the market onto Place Jean-Béliveau, an esplanade completed in 2017. The open space fronts the Centre Vidéotron, and is animated by public art, performance spaces, and a children’s play area. Unfortunately, on the east side facing Limoilou and the old Colisée Pepsi, a large, bland parking lot is still present. Hopefully the eventual redevelopment of this side—following the recent addition of a bus terminal and planned demolition of the Colisée—will lead to a rethought parking area, with more plants, trees, and other structures that make the space friendlier to pedestrians.

A grand stair to the second level doubles as seating for events and performances in the central gathering area.

Opening less than a year before the Covid pandemic hit, the Grand Marché has yet to take root as a fully alive market that rivals long-standing public markets elsewhere. The move from the Old Port was controversial, and the architects deliberately chose not to recreate the cramped aisles that had defined that space for three decades. However, the high quality of the architecture and the attention brought to reinstating the lost qualities of a heritage building are impressive. All this was achieved in spite of relatively low budgets and multiple programmatic changes.

Most importantly, many local producers have expressed their satisfaction with the building and with their renewed relationship with local communities. In the Grand Marché’s new location, the clientele extends beyond the tourists who frequented the Old Port Market. The Grand Marché promises to continue adding new vitality to a long-neglected part of Quebec City, reaching back to the original mission of the Pavillon de l’industrie—to celebrate local entrepreneurial spirit and agricultural know-how.

Olivier Vallerand is Assistant Professor at The Design School, Arizona State University.

CLIENT Ville de Québec (Caroline Lamonde) | ARCHITECT TEAM Bisson associés—Jonathan Bisson, Caroline Lajoie, Julie Dubé, Evans Zuniga, Jacques Dion, Frédérique Murphy, Marie-Michelle Gauthier, Matthias Coquereau, Geneviève Gagnon, Loïc Lefebvre, Katell Meuric. Atelier Pierre Thibault—Pierre Thibault, Jérôme Lapierre, Julie Poisson, Guillaume B. Riel, Luis Alejandro Rojas-Perez, Charlène Bourgeois, Mathieu Leclerc, Éric Boucher | STRUCTURAL EMS Ingénierie (Éric Boucher, Simon Clément) | MECHANICAL/ELECTRICAL WSP Canada (Alain d’Anjou) | CONTRACTORS Construction Citadelle (Martin Girard) and Construction Richard Arsenault (Simon Proteau) | AREA 9,000 m2 | BUDGET $26.1 M | COMPLETION June 2019