Centre Est-Nord-Est

Located on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, the tiny village of Saint-Jean-Port-Joli is well known for its impressive number of artisans and woodworkers. The small community boasts a thriving arts and culture scene; it is particularly revered for its sculptors and plays host to both a Biennial Sculpture Festival and Winter Festival, during which ice sculptors from around the world erect creations throughout Trois-Bérets park. In the late summer, the village is filled with traditional sailor songs and sea shanties at La Fête des chants de marins; in October, another music festival known as Les Violons d’automne marks the changing leaves with the magic of strings. We aren’t kidding when we say that Saint-Jean-Port-Joli is an arts oasis. In July 2019, a stunning architectural project solidified a long-standing arts tradition and gave it an official home.

Nestled on a grassy field on the village outskirts, Centre Est-Nord-Est résidence d’artistes, a contemporary artist residence, is the sort of place where it would be almost impossible to not feel inspired. The structure marks the permanent brick-and-mortar for an artist-in-residence program that had previously operated on the same site in temporary facilities. It was designed by Quebec City’s Bourgeois/Lechasseur architects, a firm that previously caught our attention for the Dômes Charlevoix, a series of eco-luxury retreats, and a barn-house inspired residence in Potton township. The firm won the project by competition in 2017. According to a recent press release, it was the rural upbringings of firm founders Olivier Bourgeois and Régis Lechasseur that gave them an edge in the competition.

The architects both possess an intimate knowledge of the province’s scenic rural landscapes and remote regions. They also have a knack for seamlessly marrying tradition with contemporary sensibilities. As with the residence in Potton, Center Est-Nord-Est is reminiscent of traditional barns with its long, monolithic volume. The 951-square-metre structure is angled almost like an elongated A- frame, rising up out of the land and merging with the treeline. Its façade is lined with wood, a white cedar cladding made from trees indigenous to the region. Sheet metal, as is often used on farm buildings in the province, was chosen for the sloping roof. When it came to the interiors, Olivier Bourgeois’ previous experience helped inform the firm’s decision-making. When Bourgeois was still a student, his thesis project was an artist residence in the Magdalen Islands.

This project earned him a job working with Todd Saunders and his team in Norway as they drew up plans for the Fogo Island hotel off the coast of Newfoundland. Small artist residences were an important part of the Fogo project, and these now-iconic structures, perched atop the rocks and overlooking the wild Atlantic, have achieved international renown. Once passing through the main entrance, which is situated off the highway, visitors and artists find themselves in the heart of the structure: a multifunctional, double height space that serves as a meeting point, lounge, exhibition area, community kitchen, and dining room. Materials were chosen for their conduciveness to creating a stimulating environment of reflection and experimentation, but also strategically to fall within budget constraints. 2.3 million dollars—a relatively modest amount for a structure of this size and scale—meant a measured restraint of materiality. Plywood and polished concrete can be found throughout the interior, while acoustically treated gypsum panels on the ceiling help to dampen sound. Highlights of the interior include a dramatic spiral staircase and the quiet library to which it leads. Just as it was for Bourgeois in Fogo, natural light is key to Center Est-Nord-Est. In this upper library, skylights flood the space with natural light and create a tranquil oasis for reading and thinking. On the main floor, large openings provide verdant views of the exterior court. At the back of the building, accessed through a central corridor, are five combined studio and living quarters with sleeping mezzanines.

These were designed as expandable workspaces that could be changed to accommodate the spatial needs of different artistic disciplines. This architectural placement at the back of the building was chosen to provide artists with privacy away from common areas as they worked. Three shared workshops geared towards woodworking, metalworking, and project assembly can also be accessed through the corridor. Canada boasts an impressive array of artist colonies and retreats. With the new addition of Centre Est-Nord-Est, artists have the opportunity to practice and create in the scenic Quebec countryside and enjoy the booming cultural haven that is Saint-Jean-Port-Joli. 

images via v2com

Photo credit: Adrien Williams