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A Competition With Controversial Outcomes
by Audrée P. Mercier, published 2016-11-14
Launched in 2011 by the Muni-Spec Mont-Laurier organism, this competition seeks to “offer a modern and successful place for scenography (...) as well as a building complex that evokes feelings of belonging to the community. » With only three proposals to select from, by vote, the jury chose the project by Pelland Leblanc architectes & AEdifica. The journalist Marie Gagnon would later in “Portail Constructo”, March 2014 issue, point out the controversial nature of the competition, confirming the cancellation of the competition and the subsequent agreement with the second finalists - FABG and Go Multimedia – and consequently two calls to tender.

The selection of the three finalists was based on experience presented in their candidate application, required to have built similar projects. The architects at FABG, Pelland Leblanc architects & AEdifica, as well as Brière Gilbert + Associés Architectes, presented projects in the framework of a plural-disciplinary team. The jury’s criteria gave greater importance to notions such as: the versatility of spaces with regard to programmatic elements; the integration to the context and the handling of the neighbouring cathedral; the treatment of wood, of local materials and regional know-hows; and, more abstractly, a conceptual approach creating an architectural symbol of a cohesive community. Articulated in the final evaluation, the jury was particularly mindful of the construction budget and of the experience of “all” the team members.

In search of redefining a coherent site, Brière Gilbert + Associés Architectes proposed a project developed in three new volumes. The multifunctional room, the hall, the events room, and the public space organized a coherent, multi-purpose new urban space. While we recognize, in this project, a rigorous research as well a successful approach, the architectural proposal is less convincing, using architectural formulas. At the outset, the members of the jury decided unanimously against this project, mainly because of “numerous functional deficiencies” and for exceeding the budget, despite the versatile nature of the forecourt.

With only two teams to oppose, the jury compared proposals by FABG and Pelland Leblanc. The FABG team submitted a bright and friendly environment, composed of a new civic place contiguous with the cathedral and the Christ-Roi centre. The proposal distinguished itself by the simplicity and the elegance of the volume’s orthogonal forms. To allow informal meetings between citizens, the architects proposed to rethink the church’s square by joining both institutions with a new space, thus, aligning the theatre with the cathedral’s vestige wall and the Christ-Roi centre. Seemingly successful, this organization offered decent visibility of the new public building. In general, the functional qualities were well organized, clearly presenting the adaptability of the multi-purpose theatre. To communicate “the conservation of trees by the side of the road,” the designers generously incorporated curtain walls. This worried the jury because of the associated energy costs, nonetheless conscious of the potential of the minimalist design for the renewal of the Mont-Laurier centre.

The project submitted by Pelland Leblanc architects & AEdifica was the designated winner following a vote. As a guiding principle, the team proposed a catalyst for the region’s cultural and social activities while offering a space with potential beyond the expected use and hours of operations. Structuring the project, there were two important notions: the transition and the quadrants. The articulation was made on the basis of its physical orientation and according to deploying functions annexed to the surrounding walls, as one device contouring the main room. Consequently, making connections between the different facades of the project through a contextual reading, all the while playing with the quality of its layout. Formally, the diagonal lines on the elevations highlighted the quadrants proposed in this abstract approach. By this, the jury recognized an “architectural language that translates the function of the place”.

The built project was not the one chosen during the competition process. In the framework of the Canadian Competitions Catalogue, it is not possible for this editorial to give a detailed account of the circumstances. In short, the inauguration of the multifunctional theatre in Mont-Laurier took place in November 2014. It was the project by Éric Gauthier from FABG that was revealed, even though the members of the jury had voted for the project by Pelland Leblanc architects & AEdifica in consortium with Go Multimedia. Apparently, the Muni-Spec Mont-Laurier organism had not reached a satisfactory agreement with the winners of the initial competition. Two years later, after two calls to tender, the construction of the new theatre of Mont-Laurier finally took form, now according to a different concept. Although the concept had changed, it appears that the guiding ideas of the functional and technical programs are similar to the initial design, this being one of the many reasons why the competition is scrutinized for controversy.

(English version revised by Chantal Auger)
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