ERA Architects

Laval School of Architecture

Contemporary architects can address history in one of two ways, either by exclusion or inclusion.

Exclusion would suggest that history represents the other, the not-modern, and the role of the architect is to build a project which demonstrates a clean and distinct break from the past.

Inclusion would suggest that contemporary architectural thought can be invigorated by understanding history as part of the lived experience of a place, with the architect carefully analyzing the existing conditions, programatic requirements, and patterns of use – and then operating in a manner which sensitively contributes to the evolving cultural environment. In the inclusive model, parallels and differences can be collaborative. The strategic location of the Old Seminary of Quebec now becomes the strategic location for Laval’s School of Architecture.

As decades and centuries pass, a city defines its culture – and this culture projects itself back into the built realm. Contemporary universities seek to engage with the city, and to draw upon the unique strengths of time and place. The inward-looking quality of the religious order is now echoed in laval’s architecture studios. The architecture, at once severe, is now an architecture of intellectual rigour. In the inclusive model the role of the architect is to manage change within an urban setting, and it is clear that the architect does not build a project in isolation – the architect helps to build a city.

ERA’s proposal for a new emblematic addition to the Laval School of Architecture draws heavily upon a carefully considered analysis of the current site conditions, the historic evolution of both the built environment and the culture which generated it, and the contemporary needs of an outwardly oriented, modern University.

Our proposal seeks to redefine the traditional cloister typology; to embrace the city as opposed to shuttering the gates. Our central strategy is minimal intervention. The existing courtyard spaces are totally unique in North America, and should not be disturbed. The proposed addition is drawn away from the historic seminary complex – highlighting this formal strategy while simultaneously framing the view up-river.

Our new addition also defines an inviting entry courtyard, and capitalizes on the spectacular hillside site; currently under-utilized as a parking lot. The auditorium wing digs down into the earth and is oriented toward the park, close up, while the exhibition wing above curves away to focus on the expansive view toward the river. Two different ways of experiencing the city, as program and form are entwined. The new addition and open courtyard become the gateway to a reconfigured collection of internal spaces, which celebrate all the acts of practicing architecture – a community of scholars engaged in study, production, and exhibition.

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2011 (11-025-01)

Architectural Design Competition