Pavillon d’accueil de l’Assemblee nationale du Québec

Pavillon d’accueil de l’Assemblee nationale du Québec


The Québec National Assembly hadn’t changed in 130 years. So the intervention, or work, we needed to do required special reflection because of the quality and the history of this place, which is absolutely exceptional in Québec. From the very outset of the project, the element that stood out the most to us was the facade of the National Assembly’s Parliament Building. It is arguably one of North America’s most iconic facades. It depicts not only Québec’s political history, but that of a large portion of North America A central focus of our reflection as regards the integration of the new reception pavilion was to create a project that would impart to the public the sense that this political history is truly their political history. The idea was to respect the French character of the National Assembly. The building is highly symmetrical. Its strengths are typically European, and particularly reminiscent of the Louvre: you’ve got the same formality, the same organization, the same strategy. To not have built a pavilion in harmony with this vision of Taché’s —which was a very, very symmetrical French vision— would probably have been a mistake. It seemed important to us to reaffirm the character of that architecture, by inserting the new reception pavilion along a very central axis, and symmetrical on either side of it, and also to make it just flat out disappear. The basic idea was to create a non-building right from the start. We wanted to keep in mind that the main building is and always would be the existing Parliament Building. And we wanted citizens to get as close to the facade as possible. From this sprang the idea to slide the entire pavilion beneath the existing landscape, and to use the central staircase’s existing flight of steps to establish a balanced entrance, centered on the axis of the landscape, centered on the Parliament’s facade, neither to the left or right, which would enable the public to get close to the National Assembly as they enter the new reception pavilion. We began by dismantling everything and numbering, piece by piece, all the masonry elements of the staircase and of all the other existing components. Then we rebuilt it identically. The National Assembly is a well-maintained, well-preserved building, and is built on bedrock. This allowed us to make interventions that were somewhat bold. Namely, excavating the entire frontage of the National Assembly in close proximity to its foundation walls. And it also allowed us to dig a tunnel underneath the National Assembly, from the front to the rear courtyard, to form a new path that would make both the new pavilion accessible, as well as make the entire Assembly accessible via the monumental staircase. This entrance becomes the 300-metre ramp —a metaphor for Québec’s modern-day democracy— which ultimately forms the citizen’s agora you see behind me. The project begins at the entrance, with the ramp, which follows the Parliament Building’s large principal facade and winds around a central oculus that ends up forming the agora. The agora is the meeting place, a place of civic identity. You can start out along the path outdoors and keep following it, moving at a downward slope, without having to stop. It’s not a ramp, it’s a floor—but a sloping floor. Which alludes to the topic of unconstrained democratic accessibility for all. The citizen is involved from the very get-go: before even entering the building, there is already a ramp that will eventually take him or her to the reception level. Along this ramp, Québec’s political history unfolds, focusing this time around the concepts of community and citizenship, as opposed to specific individuals. The images depicted on the wall are in fact sculptures, as their presence is revealed by light. In reality, the holes are perforations of varying depths, which makes the images surface. The deeper perforations appear darker and go all the way through the panels, which creates air circulation to ventilate the agora. The aim of that function is to bring in natural light so visitors can have an experience that isn’t your typical underground experience, but an exceptional experience. Hence the idea of introducing this oculus at the centre of the 300-metre ramp. Although we call this space the agora of the new reception pavilion, it is based on the pnyx of Ancient Greece. That was the place where the citizenry gathered to debate their city’s political future. Therefore, this new space we now call the National Assembly’s agora is entirely dedicated to the citizens and the public—in other words, to the most important function of a democracy. This agora encourages dialogue between different participants, with several levels of engagement: seated and in close proximity to one another, or higher up along the ramp, with different perspectives. The agora is located at the base of the original facade. This is a metaphor for the notion of citizenship as the very foundation of democracy. But the agora also, through the oculus, allows us to look back at Québec history while simultaneously looking to its future. What we also found to be important, and which wasn’t part of the programming initially, was having educational spaces. To help children who are visiting, school groups for instance, to learn how a national assembly functions. What is democracy? What exactly do members of the National Assembly do? And to be able to teach kids, in an immersive manner, what goes on in Parliament. So you have all that, plus commission rooms, which have been dedicated to two exceptional women, Pauline Marois and Marie-Claire Kirkland. Two women who have marked Québec’s political history. The project is slated for LEED Silver certification. The fact that we are underground certainly gives us an advantage with respect to the building’s envelope—because there isn’t one. So the energy efficiency is rather impressive, even taking into account heating for winter and air conditioning for summer. Maintenance and upkeep costs for the duration of the project will be very, very, very low. We are doing an intervention on a heritage building. Perhaps the most important building in Québec. If only for its architecture, but also for its significance. The “People’s House,” as it’s now called since the pavilion opened its doors. We were challenged to raise the level of our game, our execution, our attention to detail, our quality and longevity. Longevity is a crucial part of this project. From the moment the pavilion opened to the public, you could say it has already been a part of Québec’s heritage. All these things together have resulted in a project that, as a whole, has written a page in history.

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