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A New Dive for Architectural Quality in Laval (Quebec)
by Anna Torres, published 2017-06-07
A New Dive for Architectural Quality in Laval (Quebec)

Launched in 2016, the competition for the Aquatic Complex of Laval marks a new turning point in the city’s relationship to its public architecture. Considering that Laval had not seen a single competition since 1961, this project testifies of a change in the city’s politics. With the goal of hosting the 2020 Jeux du Québec finale, Laval’s call for a sporting facility clearly demonstrates its will to make quality architecture and a healthy lifestyle accessible to both professional athletes and citizens. For the first time ever, the CCC is able to publish the video recordings of the public auditions.

The $61M project was launched by the municipality of Laval, and saw some 17 applications to the preselection and just four finalists in the design step. The selected teams were: ACDF* Architecture; Consortium Saucier + Perotte Architectes/ Neuf Architectes; Lapointe Magne et associés and the winning team Consortium NFOE / HCMA. Although far from the anonymous, international, open-to-all competition scheme, this refreshing contest is a step in the right direction to strengthen Laval’s architectural identity in the healthiest of ways. The important program will consist of three pools, bleachers for up to 1200 spectators and will have to qualify for a LEED Gold certification. One can absolutely commend the city’s care for transparency through the public hearing of the finalists’ presentations, which welcomed a few hundred citizens and professionals from the fields of water sports, architecture and urbanism and for which we will be publishing the video recordings.

Although the construction is originally due in time for the 2020 Jeux du Québec, the new infrastructure should have a lasting impact on the city well after the Games are over and will surely rival with Montreal’s Olympic Sports Centre for decades to come. The organizers have also taken the time to add, in the competition program, the need for a prospective vision of the site’s urban development in 2035. The complex’s delicate setting - a clearing in a small wooded area, alongside the highway 15 and the Cosmodome - was more or less elegantly treated by the finalists’ propositions.

ACDF*’s project consists of an undulating, supple green roof which curves and rolls up to structure the program. Covered public places and an outdoor auditorium unfold along the building’s elevation in a graceful motion. Although this strong distinctive feature was aesthetically pleasing, the jury believed the plan could have benefited from more spatial complexity. The team did not seem to handle the integration of the circulation to the landscape design as elegantly as the rest of the project, and the budget estimation for the concept (especially for the roof’s structure) is said to have put off the jury.

The project proposal by Consortium Saucier + Perotte Architectes / Neuf Architectes might have been the busiest of the four. From the highway, an oblong, opalescent building appears to simply float above the forest. In reality, the oval shape rests on top of an intricate topography linking the base of the building to the neighbouring woods. As noted by the jury, the effort here didn’t seem to be focused on the right things - no profound reflection had been made about the long-term impact of the project on the city’s development. Instead, all the energy was put into seemingly minor elements: the decidedly popular wavy roof (although more discreet than ACDF*’s) and the cloudlike translucence of the glass facade, which was questioned by the Jury member Alexandre Despatie (world-champion diver) for its inefficacy to deal with glare and direct sunlight. An overall complex design which would have benefited from a simpler approach.

Lapointe Magne et associés’s proposal brought a better response to the city’s concern for longer-term urban development. A monolithic translucent building slants up towards the highway, surrounded by an intricate network of pathways and water ponds. The team’s attention to the urban plan was felt through the creation of a bike lane, forest trails and new car accesses. Here, the building itself appeared to be the result of a thorough design process but disappointed by its lack of inventiveness and spatial experience. The strong motion of the building seemed more adapted to the scale of the highway than to that of the users. In fact, the jury observed that the main concept of having a luminous “monolith” would only be visible at night, leaving the building an underwhelming white block during the day.

The jury opted for the winning team Consortium NFOE / HCMA’s proposal. The laureate’s project is a simple, perfectly circular building which allows a distinctive configuration of the pools and appeared to be the most sensible and spacious proposal of the four. The complex becomes a clearing, hidden amongst the forest, inviting the greenery to flourish in its core – an aspect that the public seemed to applaud, since green spaces in Laval are becoming increasingly sparse. Structured by two perpendicular axes, the program condenses service spaces to use them as a separation between the recreational pool and the Olympic and diving pools. Although the building is discrete in its location, the jury particularly appreciated the reconciliation of both urban and human scales in the project, through the detailing of the facade, the public plaza and the strength of the form. This design is an appealing and promising one, which will hopefully become iconic to the city.

Demonstrating a more transparent approach to the city’s public investments, the public audition of the final presentations was very well received. This open event undoubtedly appeased some of the citizen’s concerns for the evolution of their city’s infrastructure. Despite not being a public consultation, nor a public dialogue, a public audition will surely spark the architectural conversation and introduce a more democratic design process.

Will Laval’s Aquatic Complex live up to everyone’s expectations? One could at least state that this competition and its outcome are a first step in the right direction, and everything now rests on the city’s sportsmanship in the management of the whole project. This complex having the potential of leading the way for a series of quality Lavallois competitions, let us hope everyone else decides to dive right in!
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