An object of memory
As announced at the previous stage, the question of heritage was studied in depth here, and the present proposal stems directly from this reflection. On the one hand, we had to take a position on the direction proposed by the authors of the functional and technical program, and reiterated by the project managers during the site visit, particularly with regard to the removal of the columns and the main external staircase. On the other, we had to consider one by one the various heritage values that we ourselves recognize for the site as a whole.
Thus, the church building, the presbytery, the low stone wall, the Christ sculpture and the tall conifers together form a site filled with stories, memories, Christmas masses, baptisms, weddings, deaths and, more recently, equally memorable concerts and plays. In our view, it is the social, historical and cultural values that dominate the ensemble's heritage status, without negating the architectural and landscape values, which we consider equally important. The Notre-Dame-de-Protection and Agora des Arts site has been known for over 85 years as a place of gathering, culture and socialization, from which many generations of memories emanate. In its new use, the site must maintain these intrinsic values, and even take their development a step further. The rehabilitation exercise we are proposing multiplies social spaces through the implementation of three new exterior forecourts: while the event space on the Seventh Avenue side takes advantage of the natural gradient of the site to generate a small tier, the main entrance located in the central axis and on the traces of the original staircase maintains its full width, thus forming a second public space of interest. Directly above, the terrace takes up the shape of the original forecourt, providing a safe, outdoor complement to the indoor foyer on the hall's first floor. Inside, a two-storey foyer and the grand interior staircase continue this series of social spaces. We propose to internalize and laterally relocate the church's symbolic grand staircase - the one whose ascent provides a transition between tangible reality and the house of God - to the side of the reception pavilion, transforming it into a performance space linking the two levels of the foyer and specific to the world of music and theater. By maintaining its original dimensions and making it visible from all sides through glass walls, we believe that the play will remain both visible and comprehensible.
This architectural ensemble, consisting of the grand staircase and the horseshoe-shaped bar directly below, is entirely designed and crafted in wood.Its textures and the lustrous finishes that will protect it will echo the more or less modest wooden works found in our churches in the form of pews, pulpits or confessionals.
The second floor of this new reception pavilion houses only the grand staircase opening, a perimeter walkway wide enough to serve as a foyer, and a large skylight. Entirely woven from elongated red brick masonry and assembled in the form of a latticework in front of a glass wall, it radiates a reddish light outside at night, while providing a comfortable, even sensual setting on the inside for the transition to the auditorium side, this time between the world of tangible reality and that of representation.Acting as a heritage complement to the initial dream of a site dominated by red brick - as illustrated in representations of the site prior to its construction - this small floating box emanating soft light at once establishes the contemporary identity of the new use, a transitional object for a venue dedicated to the performing arts, and an object of memory in dialogue with both the existing and the surrounding urban context.
In a nutshell, the conceptual argument of the project lies in the multi-level dialogue we are attempting to establish with the existing heritage ensemble through :
- Maintaining access along the axis of the spire, this time at ground level.
- Reconstituting the original forecourt as a roof terrace and creating new external forecourts.
- Maintaining the coniferous landscape typical of the Abitibi region.
- Relocation of the Christ statue to a new visual axis.
- Lateral relocation and internalization of the grand staircase and its symbolic function.
- The addition of a suspended, luminescent volume in elongated red brick masonry, completing the original composition as conceived and illustrated.
From a technical point of view, we believe that the proposed approach is reasonable and takes into account the building's life cycle. In this way, we avoid deferring necessary maintenance work, and rely on technology and systems that will keep operating budgets to a minimum - budgets which, in the cultural sector, are sometimes quite slim.
So, as a first step, we've decided to completely overhaul the mechanical and electrical systems, replacing conduits, systems and wiring with new, more economical and easier-to-operate equipment.
In terms of structure, we propose firstly to remove the four columns that obstruct the stage and greatly reduce its potential, and also to reduce as far as possible those that remain in the auditorium. We've also decided to redo the slab-on-grade in addition to the first floor, which will enable us to redo the sub-slab drainage and install sumps collecting a new system of French drains placed at the outer perimeter and under the new slab.On the architectural side, we'll be redoing the waterproofing membrane around the perimeter of the church, which we feel is absolutely essential given its close proximity to the water table and previous experience of water infiltration.
In terms of scenography, we fully respect the proposal put forward by the scenographer for the functional and technical program, while questioning the decision to use removable bleachers. In fact, we understand the budgetary argument, but would nevertheless like to reconsider the possibility of working with telescopic bleachers if, at the end of a smooth construction site, money remains available. It should also be noted that the basement rehearsal rooms have been improved compared to the original program, with the main room stripped of its awkward columns to create a veritable black box, and the second room larger than originally planned.
From an economic standpoint, our recent experience with this type of project suggests that it's wise to carry out a selective demolition and curettage before embarking on the construction project, in order to offer the main contractor a site entirely devoid of costly and time-consuming surprises. A complete overhaul of the electrical and mechanical systems will also minimize on-site problems often caused by DIY or penny-pinching.
Finally, our study of the regulatory context also seems to open the way to simpler solutions than those anticipated, enabling us to save the resources initially directed towards rebuilding the link and installing a firewall, and redirect them towards the architectural quality of the reception pavilion.
"Action or process aimed at allowing continued or contemporary use compatible with the historic place or with one of its components while protecting the heritage value of the place"-Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places or Canada (2010)
The main heritage objective of the extension is to preserve the original values that have endured to the present day, while establishing a dialogue with the history of the site and its former use. This is a rehabilitation project, as defined in the guidelines above. This dialogue is developed through a series of simple interventions that touch on material aspects (contemporary use of masonry), symbolic aspects (preservation of the church's axiality, but translation of the staircase) and cultural aspects (multiplication of forecourts as meeting and performance places).
Social value of use
L'Agora des Arts pursues the social vocation of [ by preserving and expanding its meeting and gathering spaces.
- The new external forecourts enable the public to take ownership of the site and use it as a genuine public space for socializing and gathering.
-The new elevated forecourt, linked to the upstairs foyer, is transformed into a performance and broadcasting space open to the city.
Cultural and historical value
Originally conceived as a place of communion and meditation, the converted and enlarged building is now becoming a space for creation, dissemination and performance. This transformation puts the site's historic cultural importance into perspective, while at the same time acknowledging the changing nature of the activities that take place there.
-The new uses maintain the public aspect of the site, while preserving its vocation as a grandiose, even sacred space, providing a sense of distance and detachment from everyday life.
-In this new context, the conservation of original heritage elements, whether as they are, relocated or reinterpreted, allows users to rediscover the whole, while highlighting the relationship that these elements (staircase, monument, axiality, etc.) had with the building in its original vocation.
The original ensemble, once designed entirely in masonry, is now completed with the addition of a new reception pavilion.
-While retaining the materiality of the idealized ensemble, the pavilion deploys masonry in a contemporary, light and transparent manner. This use of material ensures integration with the site, continuing the original project while affirming its later realization than the other buildings, as well as its distinct vocation, deriving from the new use.
-The external staircase, formerly used as a forecourt, is now translated and internalized. This operation maintains the church's central axis as the main access to the interior, but now at ground level, offering a direct view of the church's lower level, which was previously much more opaque. This modification of the route allows the user to repeat the original movements, but in a completely new context.
(From competitor's text)
(Unofficial automated translation)
2.3.1- The heritage reflection that served as a basis for the design of the proposal was carried out in a clear and serious manner.
2.3.2- The architectural treatment in relation to the proposed functional distribution is particularly coherent.
2.3.3- The durability of the proposal in terms of its materiality is convincing.
2.3.4- The masonry grid proposed for the new pavilion is an interesting distinctive element. However, its current treatment gives the new pavilion a massive and somewhat austere appearance. The jury nevertheless concedes that the objective of creating a lantern effect in times of darkness is promising and promises to soften the heaviness of the whole.
2.3.5- The proposed circulation spaces inside the new pavilion are fairly narrow and ungenerous on each floor.
2.3.6- The monumental staircase, treated as a piece of woodwork, offers a certain presence to the ensemble from the street.
2.3.7- Few details were provided about the materiality of the auditorium, except for the details provided during the audition.
(From jury report)
(Unofficial automated translation)
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