Special Award: Winter Gardens

Charlevoix, Quebec

Pierre Thibault Architecte

In the Parc de Conservation des Grands-Jardins, a nature reserve in the mountainous region of Charlevoix, Quebec, six temporary winter installations interact with seven lakes that dot a forest trail. The interventions offer visual vantage points, refuges and rest stops without permanently affecting the protected ecosystem. The designers’ focus here, rather than on built space and volume, is on the investigation of time, natural landscape, and human presence within the constantly mutating environment of the park in winter. The result is a play on the perceived aesthetics of land, sky and ice in this, the world’s southernmost taiga–a uniquely subarctic coniferous area.

The Blue Line aligns blocks of ice cut from the lake in a progressively close-knit chain extending across the lake’s frozen surface, using lights to effect a blue glow at night. The linear formation, which will stay in place for two months, contrasts the undulating natural landscape. In Constellation, which lasts one hour on each of 10 nights, 50 people light 2,000 candles in an orthogonal grid over the surface of the lake. Icebergs brings lake water to light with rectangular slabs of ice cut from the lake and erected as vertical monoliths. The water will inevitably freeze over again, pointing out that time prevails inexorably, even as the sun melts the blocks and snow covers traces of intervention. In Rhapsody, which will remain in place for two weeks, a grid of 750 flutes with rotating heads is installed over the entire surface of the lake, allowing wind to blow through and produce melodies of varying intensity.

Caravan consists of 50 polyester dome camping tents arranged 20 metres apart in a straight line linking two lakes. In each tent, campers armed with flashlights transform the modest shelters into a row of lanterns for one night. Finally, Refuges, which will remain in place for one month, involves the construction of small plywood “houses” mounted on stilts on the surface of the lake, blurring the distinction between terra firma and ice surface.

Caruso: This project achieved a depth of feeling unique among the submissions we reviewed. Although the formal language is familiar from the art practices of Robert Smithson and others, and although the interventions are physically slight, this project really says something about the Canadian winter landscape; I could hear and smell the creaking, iced-over lake. I think that the small groups of people who will participate in these events will be changed by their experiences.

The choice and handling of technology in this project is unusually well judged and poignant. I found myself forgetting about what things looked like because I understood and was drawn into how various phenomena and spaces would be invoked. For once, the computer was used to make drawings that precisely communicated the ideas and the appearance of the project. This is a substantial architecture, sensitively engaging with a particular situation and making powerful, if fleeting, places.

Kapusta: This was a very problematic project for me. The other two jurors had an immediate, visceral and positive response to it, which left me going all the way back to Vitruvius to explain why, for me, it didn’t merit an award. Unlike most of the other hundred-odd projects that passed in front of us, its essentially poetic program bears only the responsibility of creating delight, exempt from the fundamental responsibilities of architecture to provide “firmness” and “commodity.” Maybe I’m being a stickler for definitions, but that puts it in the realm of “art” for me, and somehow I feel it’s unfair to judge art and architecture by the same measures. It reminded me of so many student thesis projects that struggle to find expression by denying those things that make architecture so wonderful and difficult: the capacity not just to move the spirit but to shelter and engage the body in a real program.

Saia: This project is unclassifiable! It is neither architecture nor landscape architecture, neither land art nor installation nor performance. Why pigeon-hole everything when the common concern is always that of inhabitation?

In this country there still exist remote corners of nature that can be preserved by the designation of “park.” Winter softens and blurs the contours and our usual points of reference. A disquieting strangeness hovers about. So, in order to feel at home, to let an architectural glance invest the landscape, one must trace the lines, measure the distances, grid the areas, perforate the night with luminous points, and organize and arrange the bubbles of individual shelters in comfortable proximity to one another. The familiar, while ephemeral, renders the landscape understandable. One may at last find one’s place here. This is achieved with the most unstable of materials: candles that will extinguish themselves, the frozen surface of the lake and the wall of ice that will melt. But there will have been sufficient time to draw a diagram using the means and devices as common to those who inhabit dwellings as to those who think about and design them.

Can one regard this vast work as a modern counterpart to the 17th century vanitas motif? If so, one could begin to speak about the temporal dimension of architecture: not only the time that passes and slips away, but also the measure of time and space as intertwined and rendered palpable in built works.

Client: Parcs du Qubec/Parc des Grands-Jardins

Architect team: Pierre Thibault, Vadim Siegel, Katerine Mc Kinnon, Charles Ferland

Budget: $194,000

Completion: Winter 2003