" Ilôt des Palais ", Suspended project, heritage in probation
*Jacques White regularly collaborates with L.E.A.P. on the documentation of various competitions. He is the director of the École d'architecture de l'Université Laval and was the professional advisor for the Ilôt des Palais competition in 2006.
The wrap up of the Ilôt des Palais competition in Québec has resulted in a verbal upheaval rather than a return to the drawing board for the architects involved. After the unexpected resurgence of the chosen project amongst the recipients of the 2007 Canadian Architect awards of excellence, and despite of the recent decision of the Quebec mayor to suspend the project, the subject of the Ilôt des Palais competition remains a hot topic. Not all the details regarding the surreal story behind the project and its competition have yet been revealed, or understood. The two belated and quite meagre expositions put on in Quebec City have not been able to bury the outrage which resulted following the mysterious publication (apparently a leak) of a revised version of the winning project prior to the official announcement of the competition results. The submissions have since been featured, in their entirety, in the Canadian Competition Catalogue prepared by LEAP. Those advocating architectural competition transparency and the creation of conditions favourable to the development of contemporary architectural notions in Quebec, will be glad to know that « potential architecture » generated by the Ilôt des Palais competition will finally be able to publicly put on the stand the questions initially posed by the project developer.
The interest in diffusing the entries of the Ilôt des Palais competition lies less in the implied political and procedural answers which still remain foggy in light of some doubtful manipulation of received competition information, than in the focussing on architectural issues: Which proposals were the fruit of the determinist stance of the developer with regards to the commemoration of important historical remains? How can a tectonic approach from the end of last century be transformed into one appropriate for the beginning of the current one under a myriad of physical and virtual influences? In which form, and using which devices is the contemporary nature of an architectural gesture devalued in a milieu sensitive to and pregnant with memory? Despite of the relatively small number of received competition proposals, interesting ideas had emerged with regards to the questions already discussed in the above text as well as others which lie in wait for those able to decipher them. The exercise is now in the hands of those wishing to dedicate time to these issues.
While the competition proposals, which patiently sat in the shadows over the last few months, get re-introduced in a new light, the future of the Ilôt des Palais site is being put to the test, even if the calm seems to have set in. Historians and archaeologists are publically expressing their interest in the re-initiation of the halted project, while the architects discuss its future behind closed doors. The premature deterioration of the unprotected relics is causing much concern about their conservation. Ironically, the foundations of the first phase of the project, erected before the construction stoppage, have added yet another archaeological layer to those which were already on site before the project had ever begun. Perhaps, these post-competition effects will have an important impact on the reputation of our competitions. Yet, if archaeology is defined as a science of ancient things, we must not forget that architecture has the power to forge the future. It is up to us, the architects, to see to this and believe in it.
Launched in 2006, the competition Îlot des Palais in Québec aimed to restructure a very important heritage site which includes the remains of a French Intendant's Palace (1760). The fact that this site had no previous heritage value attributed to it, despite of its striking proximity to the city fortifications, has been the subject of many case studies aiming to highlight its historical and archeological importance within the city of Quebec. With this competition, the city of Quebec wished to provoke the creation of a new cultural and tourist attraction. The competition program required the creation of an archeology/history centre housed in two sustainable pavilions placed on top of the Palace remains and enclosing a garden and an honorary courtyard.
In order to qualify, the competitors had to demonstrate significant experience in design of head offices within the Quebec region. The city was responsible for taking care of the initial phase architectural services of the winning team pertaining to the placement of the first pavilion as well as the temporary landscaping. The first phase of the project was to be completed for Quebec's 400th anniversary, while the second phase, more focused on the permanent urban design of the site as well as the Palace reconstruction, was to be carried out at a later date.
The competition wrap-up was marked by an illegal publication of altered images of the winning proposal. This incident took place prior to the belated exhibition of the competition entries creating an upheaval amongst the involved teams, as documented in the May, 2007 ARQ article by the professional competition advisor Jacques White. Originally presented by the municipality as a key element for the 400th anniversary celebrations in Quebec city, the project has recently been put on hold by the new mayor Régis Labeaume.