Performance Takes Top Priority: Cultural Center Guy-Gagnon in Verdun, Quebec

by Stanley Collyer

Winning entry by Les Architectes FABG
Les Architectes FABG won the competition for a new cultural venue, including a professional theater on the St. Lawrence River in the Verdun Borough of Quebec Province. The project also provides for redevelopment and expansion of Verdun’s resident school for circus performance (École de cirque de Verdun).
Selected from four finalists, all limited to the Quebec Province, FABG was selected on the basis of the quality of its general impression, its relationship to the nearby river, views to the surrounding landscape and its functionality. Jury Chair, Diane Vallée, directrice de la culture, des sports, des loisirs et du développement social in the Verdun Borough, noted that all of the finalists exhibited a high level of architectural expression.

In addition to Les Architectes FABG, the other Quebec finalists were: Saucier + Perrotte, Architectes; Dan S. Hanganu, Architectes; and Manon Asselin, Architectes in collaboration with Jodoin Lamarre Pratte, Architectes.

According to the competition brief, “the conversion requires remodelling of the building envelope, in harmony with the structure’s site along the St. Lawrence River. The property must form an integrated architectural whole, reflect the pursuit of a contemporary esthetic and project a resolutely arts-oriented image. In keeping with the desire to achieve an architectural work of quality, translucidity, materiality and inventiveness must be the watchwords.”

As part of the expansion program of the former arena (located at 5190, boulevard LaSalle):

• A cultural venue will be set up in Studio B. The new, expanded facilities will be more than a traditional theatre: they will be used as a venue for creation, production and promotion for various cultural organizations in the arts field. These facilities will include a mediation room, allowing for synergy between the performers and the audience before the shows, as well as an exhibition hall and areas for the performers’ living quarters.

• At the present time, École de cirque de Verdun is located in Studio A, which is to be redeveloped and expanded. Starting in the fall of 2013, the theatre will be able to offer between 368 and 444 fixed and retractable seats, depending on the type of show that will be presented there. The theatre will operate in association with the circus arts hub of la Cité du cirque la Tohu in order to attract appropriate shows.
The Selection Process

In general terms, the jury noted two approaches by the teams, one being iconic, the other being strong on formatting. In this vein, two of the projects were stronger in their relationship to the river, while the other two were strong in their visual presentations.

While all of the projects exhibited a high degree of architectural expression, maintaining the important criterion of transparency proved to be difficult. Architecturally speaking, the treatment of the building on the riverside was far better than the streetside presentations, and a curbside appeal was weak in all of the proposals. They found that all of the entries were equally strong in their proposed treatment of the ensemble: the relationship of the different programs was good, and the entries were well-placed in reference to parking.
The two-phase competition format posed a problem for some, in that the advancement of the proposals from stage I to stage II was uneven. As for addressing the needs of the handicapped,  only one of the entries successfully dealt with the accessibility issue.


The Winning Design: Les Architectes FABG



Spatial flexibility was a strong feature in this entry’s use of  the spaces and its organizational components. The theater enjoys a uniform height so that the hall, attached with stairs and ramps, allows shows of a smaller size, simultaneously allowing views to the river. Due to the location of the hall in relatiion to the river, it offers a fluid interior/exterior relationship. The facade is low-key, and that theme is continued into the hall and theater. Exterior: large panes of glass and metalic refinishing between plain and perferated surfaces. The project appeared to be receptive to budget constraints, as well as altering the cladding.


Identity: Uniqueness expressed strongly laterally on riverside, but not on the streetside, where the entries and facade are more or less made up of the unchanged existing building.

There was a good understanding of this type of program (functionality). The proposal of a literal path is efficient and direct, and maximizes the relationship between Hall and the park. A high priority was given to the theater and its foyer. The addition of some ramps in the hall allows for good circulation and functional flexibiilty within the site.  –Jury Comments


Finalist: Saucier + Perrotte, Architectes


The parti is centered on a formal approach leading to an elegant connection of the two volumes. The two studios are integrated by a park pavilion, and by doing so they have isolated the two functions by the positioning of the river entrance. Lead mesh was used as a covering for the windows. The wrapping of the building overflows the structural component.


Identification: the architectural uniqueness is expressed in the global treatment of the facade, making the existing building disappear. It relies on a formal approach, and there is no reference to the existing facade.

Plan: Pavilion in the park is well-defined, but it seemed a bit disconnected from the site, and therefore hard to make an argument for it as an absolute necessity. The entrance is well centered on river, but not very visible.
The mesh system means that transparency is better from the interior than from the exterior.

Here a repartitioning of the public functions on two levels is proposed, which would break up the continuity of the organizing principle. The pathway offers a good pedway, but is constraining and not flexible as part of the operational plan. The entry, though serviced by a large landing, is far from parking. -Jury Comments
Finalist: Dan S. Hanganu, Architectes
The use of the existing facade on the boulevard as a media and cinematic element creates a screen hiding the rest of the building. The parti proposed a glass hall linking the city and the river, grouping all the public functions at grade level. A ceramic facade on the city-side creates a strong appeal. This interior “street” is quite sophisticated, but probably high maintenance.

The school and the theater are open to one another at grade.

Although the jury liked the media screen on the facade, it is missing from the riverside and thus lacks uniformity. its duribility is also questionable, as well as a problem with graphic presentation. It also would be more appearling at night than during the day. The is a question of appropriateness in a park environment, and it would be more adaptable to special events than as a permanent identity.
Plan: Transversal idea from river to city did not clearly fit in with the plan except for the hall. The building tends to interrupt the link to the river.

The proposed functional organization features two buildings being somewhat closed off from one another. The opening of the two theaters to each other was not supportable for acoustic reasons.   -Jury Comments
Finalist: Manon Asselin, Architectes with Jodoin Lamarre Pratte, Architectes
This project, with two different spaces separated by a ramp, reveals an attractive promenade separating the two main volumes at the second level. Roofing is transformed into a green roof, leading to the river. The volume of Studio B by its form and texture reminds one of an iceberg in the river. The entry way at the back to the main volumes does lack some transparency, and the exterior consists of wood and metal.

As with other finalists, they were willing to make certain changes to accommodate the budget.
Identity: The ramp idea sparked discussion about the operational and security plans for the building. By moving the parking closer to the building, the identity of the park is diminished.

Functionality: Good ideas such as placement of the cafeteria in a common area and the dividing central spine between the two volumes. The hall appears to be too narrow, making it too inflexible as an operational plan. The exposition hall is located too far from the entrance and the common area doesn’t present an attractive character due to its location.
-Jury Comments