The question of old buildings within the context of a growing need for additional space as well as its relation to the greater city at large is a complex one that has been exhaustively debated. On one hand, historic buildings often stand as a memento to the city, an event or to a group of people, while on the other, they’re difficult to adapt to modern needs, possibly not cost efficient and often become detach from the city due to socioeconomic changes. The question offers up varying answers for each individual buildings and as such, there can be no definite nor simple one-size-fits all answer.
The Université Laval, founded in 1663 as the Séminaire de Québec, is the oldest university in Canada and the first in North America to offer higher education in French. Both of these give the university its character and continue to be evident to this day both in its collection of historic buildings as well as the strong French identity of the university. To commemorate the founding of its School of Architecture’s 50th anniversary in Quebec City, an ideas competition was held to generate solutions as to how new developments can fit into the historic buildings of the campus and by extension, into the fabric of the city.
The fundamental problem posed by the site in this competition was the way in which the city and the architecture of Quebec City has come to symbolise a connection with its history. As the School of Architecture is located within a complex of buildings which date from 1667, it stands as a testament to the very roots of the University as well as the city of Quebec. How would a new addition address this delicate representation of architecture? How could architecture bridge the relationship between the campus and the city, two intricately linked but physically separate entities?
The design thesis aims to bring the architecture of Quebec City out from its role as a “postcard” nature to one which engages actively with both the university and the city. By reprogramming the space formed by the buildings into one of a public nature and exposing the studio life of the faculty to the city, the architecture creates a bilateral conversation between the static identity of the building with the lively streets of Quebec. The design forms a convenient passage from the Rue Sainte-Famille to Parc Montmorency and in doing so, opens up the once private nature of the faculty to the public.
An opened studio exposed to the courtyard allows the public to observe the process of architectural education at Laval and encourages social interaction with the community and vice-versa. The design further connects the central courtyard with the French garden at the rear of the building by tunneling through a building over 300 years old. Here, part of the existing building is transformed into a flexible space for exhibitions, studios or critiques with the opportunity for extension into the garden itself. The public connection continues towards Parc Montmorency through the currently derelict space at the rear of the campus, where a new amphitheatre is proposed.
Designed to invite the public into the campus, each addition is strategically placed to compliment the existing building complex. The landscaped courtyard allows people to adapt the space for their own use without a predetermined programme but offers different varieties for adaptation. With views of the building and the new studio underneath, the courtyard becomes a platform from which people may appreciate the history and working of architectural education around them. Meanwhile, adjacent to the rear garden, the new multi-use space blurs the distinction between inside and outside and allows students a flexible space for exhibitions, studios and critiques with the opportunity to expand into the outdoors. To complete the ensemble, an opened amphitheatre which serves as an outdoor critique space showcases the work of students to the public and invites the public to participate in conversations of architecture.
Through the intervention, the public is taken through the faculty literally and given opportunities to engage in active conversation with both the history of architecture and the process of contemporary architecture. As architectural education often involve students working within the studio detached from the city around them, the design aims to break from this by offering various opportunities for observing, engaging and sharing ideas between students and with the city. The city thus becomes part of the campus and the palette in which students work in is brought directly into the school.
The boundary between the Université Laval and Quebec City thus becomes indistinguishable, as does the role of the city as a subject of research and the city as place. The campus becomes integrated with the urban fabric with unexpected juxtapositions between the students and public.
By encouraging observation, integration and conversation between the school and the city, the design rethinks the role of old buildings within the contemporary city. Rather than have buildings as static artifacts, their history could be exposed through active interaction with both their occupants and surroundings. By extension, contemporary North American architectural education emphasizes heavily on the role of the public. The design forces architectural education from its segregated nature within the studio to an amalgamation with the public to further the dialectic discussions on architecture.
TEAM: Joey Yim, Kenneth Ip
LOCATION: Université Laval, Quebec City, QC, Canada
PROGRAMME: Studios, exhibition space, critique space and lecture theatre for the Faculty of Architecture at the Université Laval
COMPLETION DATE: 2011