Twenty + Change: Blouin Orzes, Montreal, Quebec
“The notion of North overlays all aspects of life, and our life as architects and builders there,” says Orzes.
Architects Marc Blouin and Catherine Orzes work in the bustling metropolis of Montreal. But, says Blouin, they are constantly “in a Northern state of mind.” The duo describes their practice, established in 2017, as “a tireless journey through the vast territories north of the 55th parallel.”
The firm’s commitment to the region builds on previous experience by its co-founders; Blouin, in particular, has been involved for decades in developing projects and building relationships with northern communities. Last year, Blouin received the Order des architectes du Québec’s Social Engagement prize and the firm was selected as one of the Architectural League of New York’s Emerging Voices.
Architecture faces many challenges in the North. Extreme weather significantly limits the construction season and requires highly specialized knowledge. Climate change means that project teams must collaborate with environmental experts to develop innovative, sustainable solutions. Remote locations result in high costs and complex logistics for securing materials, as well as a limited availability of skilled labour. The evolving social conditions of the once-nomadic Inuit impact planning for the future.
“The notion of North overlays all aspects of life, and our life as architects and builders there,” says Orzes. “Nordicity,” explains Blouin, “is the complete context and environment where we work: from the cultural differences with our clients and project users, to the way we build and the way we get there.”
Working collaboratively with community members—in relationships built on mutual trust—leads to projects that are both respectful and responsive. As such, Blouin Orzes describes their process as “accompanying clients,” rather than designing “for” them. Their scope of work often goes beyond traditional architectural services. In the case of Katittavik Hall, completed in 2018, this included everything from assisting with grant proposals to training stage technicians. Located in the Northern village of Kuujjuaraapik, the building was originally conceived by the community as a venue for the Inuit Games. With assistance from the architects, the program evolved into a fully functional performance space, capable of hosting festivals and events throughout the year.
Blouin Orzes’ architecture often features brightly coloured façades and folded geometries. Such projects may initially appear quite simple, but looks can be deceptive. In each of their buildings, apparent simplicity of form represents years of collaborative efforts to create spaces for celebration, tradition and connection.
This profile is part of our August 2021 feature story, Twenty + Change: Emerging Talent.