The concept for the siting and construction of the new visitor centre for Seigneurie-des-Aulnaies, a registered Quebec cultural heritage site, is grounded in the characteristic elements of the surrounding landscape: the river, bridges, forest and stone buildings. The architects opted for a Land Art approach, focusing on natural settings and materials. The aim was to make the new building as discreet as possible and showcase the site’s most interesting landscape and heritage features.
The resulting pavilion takes advantage of the site’s slope: the building “melts” into it, minimizing its visual impact on the site and allowing for universal accessibility. Stone is the project’s dominant source of inspiration. It is found on the site in every form: as a retaining wall, piled on the riverbank, and hewn for use on the mill’s exterior. This natural raw material appears in the new pavilion as a gabion wall. Meanwhile, the building’s green roof suggests an exposed stratum of the underlying ground and emphasizes the idea of landscape-focused architecture by blurring all references to buildings. The interior spaces are organized longitudinally, following the roofline.
As the gateway to the historic Seigneurie site, the new pavilion is used for welcoming visitors and controlling site access, while giving visitors an overview of different ways to explore the site. The first volume, in wood and stone, is used for services, while the second volume, finished in glass, opens on the landscape and provides a “frame” for looking at the mill and its activities. The gap between the two volumes provides a view of the river side of the landscape. On the street side, the gabion wall guides pedestrians toward the entrance, characterized by a picture window and a thin awning attached to the building. The awning provides shelter for guided activities or contemplation; it is also designed to steer the visitor toward the wooden walkway leading to the manor house.
The project, executed on a very tight budget, reflects a contemporary approach to integrating a new structure into a sensitive location, where the top priorities were to highlight historic architecture and landscape heritage. By minimizing the environmental and visual impact of the pavilion, the architects showed a high degree of sensitivity to the rich natural setting. In addition to the challenge of integration with the surroundings, there was also a need to address the social acceptability of the project – a challenge successfully met thanks to an actively involved client open to new ideas and passionate about the Seigneurie des Aulnaies.
Designers: Anne Carrier lead architect, Robert Boily B.arch./ B.sc.a., Patricia Pronovost architect
Client: Corporation touristique de la Seigneurie des Aulnaies