Stenosis–Dwelling the Narrow

STUDENT Marianne Gaudreault-Charbonneau, Universit Laval
LOCATION Quebec City, Quebec

[stenosis]: a term borrowed from the medical domain; coming from the Greek stenos, which means narrow, narrowing. (Manuel Gausa, 2003)

The term stenosis is used here in an attempt to define external pressures on site, which, after successive divisions and multiple constructions, has become spatially narrow, reduced in one or several points. Intimately linked to the concept of space infiltration, stenosis here refers to a local narrowing, a direct reaction to the physical constraints of the built context. It assumes a tension created by pressure applied to a void, but is also a reaction aimed to fill the interstitial space–an infiltration of sorts. This infiltration, in its literal sense, refers to a liquid which “slips” across the space through a reduced opening, as a constructed space could slip into a site by a slit, a narrow opening–thin, but possible. The “fluid object” then fits into the available three-dimensional space, and bonds to its limits. Strong external pressures permit an unforeseen development from the inside.

Close to the recently revitalized Saint-Roch district, Saint-Sauveur is a Quebec City neighbourhood that was formerly a working-class suburb during the 19th-century period of naval development. Saint-Sauveur went through a process of deurbanization from 1950 to 2000, due to a gradual exodus to the suburbs. However, for the past five years or so, the area has enjoyed a renewal of sorts with people returning to the region, reversing its negative population growth.

The project proposes a “soft” densification and revitalization of the area by developing its interstitial spaces to consolidate the existing context. Instead of demolishing entire blocks of housing to erect large multi-dwelling units, the project attempts to understand and play with the existing urban fabric. The central concept proposes new types of dwelling–narrow spaces that fit into these available interstitial zones, creating density by adding residential units which serve to improve the built environment.

The particular site chosen for this project was derived from an investigation of a larger slice of land running through the residential centre of Saint-Sauveur, allowing for a more precise analysis of the interstitial zones found in the area. Variables such as sunlight, existing fenestration patterns, passageways, trees and potential courtyards were considered in determining the ultimate site.

Eleven units were designed to fit into the narrow voids, creating a second layer of housing and a courtyard through the existing urban fabric. Particular attention was paid to access to natural light, the thickness of windows and walls, dimensions of height relative to narrow widths, easily assembled and graceful structures, and integration of the project into its context through building materials, proportions, solids and voids.

GH: This is perfectly executed urban infill. The mature skill is that of a seasoned architect. The neighbourhood can grow and the existing population is not displaced. Very impressive student work.

JPL: This project examines new ways of inserting functions into an existing urban fabric and pays particular attention to this Quebec City neighbourhood’s spatial and light conditions. The new planning ideas put forward in this project may serve to improve the overall character of the area and its chances at successful revitalization. This student tackled an important issue which affects the densification of our cities, and her effort is definitely deserving of an award.

PR: The investigation of the intensification of housing and the use of existing urban infrastructure is very important. It takes a very clear approach with respect to testing how that might happen. It’s exciting to see so much intensification and yet the domestic character of the existing neighbourhood seems to be enhanced by this juxtaposition. My immediate concern with respect to the site plan is how this much density would cut off natural light, but the student is aware of this, employing a very light reflective masonry to retain a sense of lightness and vitality to the project. I love the modesty, yet I think it’s shockingly utopian and unrealistic at the same time.