The site where the new extension to the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Quebec will be built suggests a unique opportunity to plan the transformation of a cultural ensemble that has been created by the addition of different pieces over time. Following this thread, the question arises: how to add a new building that means something more than just a solution to a functional problem, and how to conceive an architectural project that harmonizes the museum,s connection with the park and the memory of the former monastery buildings?
Initial planning decision is a repositioning of the new building in relation to the existing pieces. A cubic volumen - not only a urban landmark, but the ensembles, new center of gravity - will establish a visual link with the neogothic church and the other museum buildings, liberating the courtyard void of the former monastery. An initial simple geometric volume, with a regular modulation, is intersected by another polygonal order, creating a spatial complexity out of strict regularity. Thus, the project represents two complementary architectural systems in scale and geometry: on one hand, a straightforward spatial sequence - based on an orthogonal grid - and, on the other hand, a series of negative geometric voids, that break into different scales to establish a dialogue with the roofscape of the church buildings.
In urban terms, a long horizontal socle-building leads from the Grand Allée, allowing the visitor to walk to the museum alongside the city’s historic park. Its interior space will conceal most of the museum’s public-use facilities: entrance area, foyer, reception, hall, shops and amphitheatre. The main hall creates a spatial and visual connection to the upper and lower levels, linking the new museum,s entrance to the Charles Baillairgé Pavillion. The underground floor shelters the temporary exhibition rooms under the monastery courtyard, as well as the support areas for exhibitions. The upper levels will be entirely devoted to the permanent exhibition areas. The museum’s exhibition concept is based on a sequence of modular rooms of differing sizes, all interconnected, allowing visitors to explore various alternative routes. The rooms have different clear heights, always above 6m. There are different possibilities on how to subdivide the rooms - using partitions or smaller cubicles - that will be studied in depth throughout the future development of the project.
The choice of materials and constructive systems responds to the architectural idea that generates the project: the socle building uses a simple structural framework and its exterior façade will preferably provide a translucent skin that connects visually the ground level to the park. The building is completely covered with one single material: recycled cast alluminum panels, which will convey lightness to the volumes that open to the park. Some of the inclined “cuts” will be actually openings with double glass surfaces that allow a visual connection from the interior spaces to the park.
Architecture has the power to evoke - in one place - images of many other places, whether real, imagined, or dreamed: it is capable of enveloping, within a single space, all of those spaces that we have once seen or imagined. The impressions of the cold light on that first day when we visited the site are blended with the presence and absence of the former monastery, and also with memories of the irregular steep roofscape of the old Quebec town. There on the Battlefield Park, on the edge between city and nature, the new museum,s entrance pavillion will appear like an abstract contemporary building in dialog with the past: an architecture that is both memory and invention, adding a new chapter to an unfinished text, the history of a museum in permanent growth.
Fuensanta Nieto, Enrique Sobejano