Laval University School of Architecture “Emblematic Addition” Ideas Competition
by Stanley Collyer
Addressing an addition to a centuries-old seminary building in the heart of historic Québec—designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site— would represent a unique challenge to any architect. To probe the boundaries of this scenario, the Laval University School of Architecture, celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding, sponsored a one-stage ideas competition, open to professionals and students alike for an “emblematic addition” to the heritage building where it resides.
The Site The existing Seminary Building is a U-shaped structure, surrounding an underutilized courtyard. This became a focal point for some of the schemes, as one of the winners stated: “The courtyard of the former seminary is today rarely used by the students of the school due to the lack of access and to the main floor functions—like the classrooms, being too specific.” The competitors were also given maximum flexibility as to where the new structure might be located. According to the competition brief, “Its placement should reaffirm the entry hierarchy and the interior axes of circulation. Its volume should transform the building’s exterior appearance, complementing it with a new symbolic icon. The intervention, as a project embodying the values and dynamic of the School of Architecture, should meet the following objectives:
- Provide the School of Architecture with the gathering places that it currently lacks: a 350-seat amphitheater and a multi-use space of about 250 m2, which can serve as a space for exhibitions, studio critiques and an open forum.
- Reorient directionally and hierarchically the building ensemble in respect to the existing entrances and vertical circulation axes.
- Address the existing building, built several centuries ago, as a work in constant evolution—from its history as a local seminary to an internationally renowned school of architecture, with spaces that correspond to the pedagogical and research needs of today.” To adjudicate the process, the competition organizers assembled a high-profile jury:
- Joan Ockman, architecture historian, critic, educator and former director of the Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture at Columbia University;
- Gilles Saucier and André Perrotte, partners at Saucier + Perrote architectes, Montreal;
- Philippe Barrière, French architect DPLG and professor at Laval University;
- Emmanuelle Champagne, intern architect at Éric Pelletier architecte, Quebec City;
- Matthieu Dugal, cultural journalist at CBC-Radio-Canada, Quebec City.
The professional advisor was Laval University Prof. Jacques White, architect.
The competition received 115 entries from 22 countries. Most of the teams (49) were composed of students, while 38 were made up of practicing architects. Intern architects or mixed groups comprised the remaining teams. After a long deliberating process spanning two days, jurors decided to split the total awards for the top three prizes ($10,000) among three winners:
-“Direct Axis” by University of Toronto (Canada) students Omar Aljebouri, Avery Guthrie and Steve Socha;
-“SHED” by Université Laval (Canada) students Catherine Houle, Marianne Lapalme and Vanessa Poirier;
-“Layering the Present” submitted by Jihoon Kim and Sanghwan Park, JKSP architects, New York
Three Honorable Mentions were awarded:
-“Sphères de reference” by Montreal architects Éric Boucher and Élisabeth Bouchard;
-“Shlack !!” by Université Laval students Julien Beauchamp, Romy Brosseau, Émilie Gagné-Loranger and Alexandre Hamlyn;
-Odile Decq of Odile Decq Benoit Cornette architectes urbanistes
Two entries making the final round also received mention:
-“Idendification” by Jil Bentz, architecture student in Luxembourg
-Dominique Poncelet, Intern architect in Montreal
The premiated designs:
“Direct Axis” - Omar Aljebouri, Avery Guthrie and Steve Socha, Toronto
This entry points out that “the tradition of building on the site has been one of addition and adaptation; new growth is accommodated through the accumulation of axial wings, with form and programmatic function evolving to suit the needs of successive ecclesiastical and pedagogical eras. Any intervention on this site must thus treat the context as a dynamic process, rather than a group of static artifact.” Thus, this team suggested an addition and another axis in the Old Seminary complex. By establishing a “new axis,” a clear and decongested circulation path is created, also resulting in a “strong visual link” to the city and river valley.
“Layering the Present” - Jihoon Kim and Sanghwan Park, JKSP architects, New York
The authors of this scheme utilized the interior courtyard to its utmost in developing their program. According to their statement, “the Old Seminary building must be considered as an accumulation of layers of important historical events, which means that the new addition to the School of Architecture must also be considered as an act of adding another layer of history. Therefore, the new addition is neither a resultant of literal imitation of formal features of the old nor an expressive element of contemporary architecture; it must rather be a outcome of reinterpretation of the existing structure's characteristics, and translation into a new form of architectural elements. As a result, the accumulated layers of the old and the new create another interpretation as a whole.”
“Shed” - Catherine Houle, Marianne Lapalme and Vanessa Poirier, Laval Univ.
The giant “shed” is at the same time an icon at the edge of the Seminary and a giant, flexible space for exhibits and other functions. Strangely, although not intended as a temporary structure, this proposal reminds one of the early Quonset hut structures used by some schools of architecture before permanent buildings were available (Ball State University), or the conversion of a gymnasium at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. As such, students are hardly pre-programmed or intimidated by the architecture and might even produce better design as a result. Even if this new added space is not for studios, symbolically it can send an interesting message.
“spheres de references” - Éric Boucher and Élisabeth Bouchard, Montréal
According to the authors, “the sphere was chosen here for its contrast with the classic rigidity of the Seminary’s classic architecture. The literal transparency of the sphere allows the appreciation of the existing structure (Hearst Tower as reference). This pure form repeated at multiple scales and places creates a streetscape celebrating the school within the city. The circulation forms a network, framed by the spheres. The typology chosen is only one part; the idea is to make reference to the architecture by the architecture itself.” Here, contrast alone is presented as the solution. The problem here could well be content, as iconic ideas by themselves may be a fad in time.
SHLACK!!! - Julien Beauchamp, Romy Brosseau, Émilie Gagné-Loranger and Alexandre Hamlyn, Laval University
The authors point out that the existing building doesn’t work. Whereas the existing pathways footpaths link all the programs now, an added level to all the buildings can serve as a common contemporary space, which can also serve as a place for free exchange of ideas. This “de-cloistering” of the site can promote interrelationships between students and faculty. This solution is somewhat reminiscent of the old Italian courtyards with the surrounding balconies, albeit enclosed because of the winter weather. In any case, this is a way to connect outside the stolid walls of the existing structure.
(no label) Odile Decq – Paris, France
The structure is intended to indicate by its presence to the outside world that this is something other than a religious institution, with emphasis on the 21st century. It is a means of representation to the outside world. Its shiny skin reflects both history of the monument and passersby. Here one cannot ignore the similarity of this structure with Anish Kapoor’s popular bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park.
Those who received citations were:
"Idendification" - Jil Bentz, architecture student, Luxembourg
(no label) Dominique Poncelet, intern architect, Montréal
By staging a competition for a structural addition to its site, the Laval School of Architecture was furnished with a plethora of approaches to a spatial program. They are to be commended for their forward-looking design philosophy—seeking a contemporary solution to the frequent challenges posed by historic sites. There are many successful examples which Laval might follow; but solutions such as Richard Rogers’ addition to the courts in Bordeaux illustrate how it can be done in a sensitive, but innovative fashion. -Ed