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Bubbles and Drawings for a New Library
by Lucie Palombi, published 2020-02-26
Having become a third place, peaceful refuge and opening on the world, the library is emblematic of these "architectures of knowledge" in Quebec commented in the beautiful book published by Jacques Plante in 2013 (1). The library, as summarized by Lise Bissonnette in the preface to the book, would be an idea, before being a piece of furniture or a building. As old as writing or reading, this idea is, according to the author, to group and put in order multiple knowledge transcribed so that they become accessible, to the specialist as to the curious, in hospitality and light : “Today's library is strong - adds the former founding director of the Grande Bibliothèque du Québec - if it contradicts the turmoil and agitation of the world (…) The architect agrees by offering it light, coming from the outside during the day, radiating from the inside at night, under heights that let the calm of reflection float ”(2).
In 2017, the City of Montreal planned the renovation and expansion of the bibliothèque L’Octogone in the LaSalle borough. Already frequented by a third of the population of the district, the establishment created in 1984 wanted to make itself known on the scale of the city. This renovation went hand in hand with a modernization of services and a renewal of the range of activities. So, in addition to remodeling the library’s 2,900 square meters, it involved adding 1,600 square meters of new construction. Four candidates were selected for the second phase of the jury.
The BGLA inc / Blouin Tardif architectes inc team did not seek to absorb the existing octagon, but to cover it boldly like a carousel which breaks down the colors of the light spectrum: “a volume in full color 'affirms as a playful and attractive pavilion in the heart of the Félix-Leclerc park ”(team text). The architects' gesture will make the jury say that: “The project is elegant and at the same time has a moment of madness on the park side” (jury report). If the idea of ​​a lantern is already present in the consortium's proposal - a black and white volume on two floors, sometimes transparent, sometimes translucent - it would hold more of an obstacle than the signal in the eyes of the jurors: “The lantern proposed along Dollard Avenue is perceived as an austere and intimidating armor that protects the colorful octagonal jewel facing the park” (jury report). It is a double volume that tends to divide the work team in two and blunt the community spirit that is desired for the place. This architectural element is a downside of the project insofar as it does not invite the discovery of places according to the members of the committee. The latter calls for more fantasy: "An extra touch of madness in this volume could have contributed more to the invitation to enter" (jury report). Despite a “black line” - “metaphor for the text and the black and white drawing that guides the reader” (team text) - within the building, the jury considers that the comic strip is not sufficiently in the spotlight: “The comic does not occupy a special place in the building and the route to access it is rather directive rather than spontaneous or intuitive” (report of the jury); jurors regret that "conceptual rigor is imposed at the expense of the customer experience" (jury report). There is therefore a problem of control and dualism: “The terms “imagine, escape, dream” taken from the statement seem to rather make room for the term “control” especially regarding the path to follow” (jury report). Despite the elegance, the organizational simplicity of the demonstrated interior layout and its remarkable quality of natural lighting, the BGLA and Blouin project will not be selected.
Atelier Big City + L'OEUF's project also promoted the codes of representation in comics and the differences between black and white with color, particularly in terms of signage: “The typography, its application and the graphic framework evoke those of comics and the importance of the collection found at L’Octogone (…) In contrast to the colorful palette of architecture and furniture, all the signage is in black and white ”( team text). But, on the boards of the competition, this use is detrimental to it: according to the jury, the graphics used by the team do not reflect future potential atmospheres: “Although the artistic and aesthetic qualities of the drawings are appreciated, the real materials, structural elements and atmospheres are not perceived there. More realistic renderings would benefit the service and limit the efforts necessary to imagine and interpret the real intentions” (jury report). This is a half-hearted account that the jury gives us, compared to a project that takes the side of integrating the existing library. If the poetry of the concept is appreciated, the proposed location does not convince: the presence on Avenue Dollard is not considered assertive enough. If the playful architecture is highlighted as a factor of attraction, we judge that the library remains folded in on itself. Finally, if the interior design allows great flexibility and the jury agrees to recognize very good principles of organization, the proposal only partially meets the objectives set by the program. The jury only evokes the integration of nature into the building by the architects, who nevertheless insist on this idea in their descriptive text: “The new library is urban, natural and transparent”, “the great variety of essences of plants present on the site is enriched by the addition of environments favorable to diversity” or “To the palette of greens, there are vegetable atmospheres punctuated by the colors of the seasons” (team text). The most praised characteristics of the project are the presence of three entrances leading to the central hall as well as the richness of the atmospheres proposed and that of natural lighting due to the numerous windows and skylights. Despite these qualities, the user-friendly architecture of Atelier Big City + L'OEUF will not achieve the desired unanimity.
In the project submitted by the EVOQ + Group A Architects team, there were also welcoming atmospheres thanks to the use of natural materials: “The generous use of wood gives all the rich and warm atmospheres” (report of jury). The integration of two outdoor terraces upstairs is a real asset, insofar as it "constitutes an attraction contributing positively to the customer experience" (text of the jury). Finally, the quality of the light is again highlighted in the jury’s comments: “Natural lighting in the spaces dedicated to users is abundant and very appreciated” (jury’s report). Beyond these highlighted qualities, the members of the jury deplored the lack of clarity of the architectural strategy: “We recognize the conceptual will to preserve the octagonal shape of the existing building, but it is difficult to distinguish a clear architectural part” (report of jury). The events and issues described in the architects' text are numerous: we speak of an “event garden”, of a “terrace with bleachers”, of an “event staircase” or of an “interior landscape” (team text). The consortium insisted however on its will to create a building which acts as a “signature” and constitutes a place of identity, while counting on the educational potential of the project: “The didactic approach is at the heart of our architectural approach” or even “ This didactic requirement promotes the appropriation of places, the free movement of people and chance meetings ”(team text). The emphasis seems, in the eyes of the jury, to have been put in the wrong place: “A lot of effort and resources are invested in the creation of the patio but given the presence of an adjacent park, the gesture seems excessive for the benefits brought ”(report of the jury). Worse, some parts of the layout remain to be reviewed: “we perceive that the different sectors of the library have been arranged in a preconceived volume” or even that “the triangulated shape of the patio leads to rather aggressive points inside, in particular to the agora ”(jury report). Despite their efforts to enhance the uniqueness of the bibliothèque L’Octogone by focusing on comics as a central theme, the EVOQ + Group A Architects team will not win the jury’s support.
It is the project conceived by the consortium made up of Anne Carrier Architecture / Les architectes Labonté Marcil, which will receive the favor of the jury by its capacity to take the approach to preserve the existing library and to make it the base on which to place the extension. The architects announce their intentions from the outset: to offer the Lasallian community a place of exchange, to offer new spaces for library users so that it constitutes a real “beacon in its environment” (text from the team) and finally create various atmospheres while cultivating a dialogue with the city and its citizens. To achieve this, the consortium will draw on the history of the borough itself: the project will consist of three lanterns articulated around the heart of the building which recalls the movement of the Fleming windmill, built in 1827. Each of these large glass parts calls the reader to address a specific part of the site. Thus, the urban lantern “is placed on the administrative and support areas of the existing library and constitutes in the northeast an identity landmark at the crossroads of avenue Dollard and rue Salley”, when the pastoral lantern “stretches towards Félix-Leclerc Park and the Aqueduct Canal, borrowing from the great octagon its underlying structural framework”. Finally, the community lantern in the south-east “shelters public spaces which benefit from a direct link with the Carrefour at the entrance and outdoor activities arranged around the volume of the reconfigured and enlarged small octagon” (team text). This composition won over the jury, who was full of praise: “The understanding of the site and the environment in which it is located is unequivocal and “the presence of the three lanterns is an undeniable factor of attractiveness” (report of the jury). The members of the committee underline the advantage of the various accesses which converge on the main hall, the limited footprint and the terrace facing the upstairs park. Overall, they note "good flexibility of the premises and good functionality" (jury report). But it is the celebration of comics at the heart of the library - with a ribbon staircase distributing the different sectors and culminating in a playful space called “Dans ma bulle”(in my bubble) - which this time allows the Anne Carrier Architecture team / Les architectes Labonté Marcil to win this competition.
The winning project looks promising to promote the visibility of the library in the city. A real force according to Lise Bissonnette: “Today's library is strong if its architecture anchors it in its environment. What we generally mean by that is that it must animate its neighborhood, offer a new walk in the surroundings, take care of its openings so that they are real. And, in Quebec, welcome the four seasons by letting them penetrate all the floors, through all the cardinal points” (3). The winning proposal intends to reinforce the uniqueness of a refuge establishment in which comic strip authors, writers as well as readers, of those who make images through text, can transform the world into a written, drawn and above all read fiction.


(1) Plante, Jacques (éd.). Architectures de la connaissance au Québec, Les publications du Québec, 2013.
(2) Bissonnette, Lise, dans Plante, Jacques (éd.). Architectures de la connaissance au Québec, Les publications du Québec, 2013, préface, VII

(Translated by Jade Swail)
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