12.4.2010

Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec

The new building for the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec - the museum's fourth building in an increasingly complicated site, interconnected yet disparate - is a subtly ambitious, even stealthy, addition to the city rather than an iconic imposition, one that creates new links between the park and the city, and new coherence to the MNBAQ.

The intricate and sensitive context of the new building generated the central questions underpinning the design: How to extend Parc des Champs-de-Bataille while inviting the city in? How to respect and preserve St-Dominique church while creating a persuasive presence on Grande-allée? How to clarify the museum’s organization while simultaneously adding to its scale? Our solution was to stack the required new galleries in three volumes of decreasing size – housing contemporary exhibitions (50m x 50m), the permanent contemporary collection (45m x 35m) and design / Inuit exhibits (42.5m x 25m) – to create a cascade ascending from the park towards the city. Our proposal aims to weave together the city, the park and the museum; it is simultaneously an extension of all three.

While they step down in section, the gallery boxes step out in plan, framing the existing courtyard of the church cloister and orienting the building towards the park. The park spills into the museum (through skylights and carefully curated windows) and the museum into the park (though the extension of exhibitions to the terraces).

The stacking creates a 14m-high Grand Hall, sheltered under a dramatic cantilever. The Grand Hall serves as an interface to the Grande-allée, an urban plaza for the museum’s public functions, and a series of gateways into the galleries, courtyard and auditorium.

The new building offers many different trajectories and experiences. Complementing the quiet reflection of the gallery spaces, a chain of programs-foyers, lounges, shops, bridges, gardens-along the museum’s edge offers a hybrid of activities, art and public promenades. Along the way, orchestrated views outside reconnect the visitor with the park, the city, and the rest of the museum. Within the boxes, mezzanines and overlooks link the temporary and permanent exhibition spaces. On top of each of the gallery boxes, roof terraces provide space for outdoor displays and activities. Surrounding the skylights are alternating bands of wood decking and paving for public activities and exhibitions.

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The new building connects with the Pavilion Charles-Baillairge (1867), a former prison, by a tunnel rising 8.2m over its 55m length. While at first the sheer length of this tunnel and the change in elevation might appear to be awkward obstacles, they in fact create a surprising mixture of gallery spaces that lead the visitor, as if by chance, to the rest of the museum complex.

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