09 March 2010

UP-DATE : Expansion of the Musée National des Beaux du Québec

Agrandissement du MNBAQ International Architecture Competition, Quebec

We have been shorlisted for a design competition for a new pavilion for the National Beaux Arts Museum in Quebec City (MNBAQ) against OMA, Nieto Sobejano, Allied Works, and David Chipperfield, from a list of 108 firms. Phase 1 of the design by our joint-venture team, BarkowLeibinger Architecken + Imrey Culbert Architects, bested Kengo Kuma, Big, Adjaye Associates and Gigon Guyer among others to move on to Phase 2 of the design, which was recently submitted to the jury. The museum will make their final decision between the five finalists by the end of March. We are in good standing.

Though we cannot share the design proposal yet, we believe this on-going competition is another successful example of our approach to creating collaborative teams for international competitions (We similarly invited Sanaa to join us, as well as Tod Williams Billie Tsien on two other successful RFP shortlists in France).

Here’s an outline on how we approached the MNBAQ:
We believe our project reinforces a keen program directive of the museum committee for this competition: to create a coherent additive pavilion to a complex site of buildings and historical landmarks - from the small scale of the Wolfe fountain, to wide views of the Plaines d'Abraham; from the vertical height of the St. Dominique church, to the over-shadowing presence of the rehabilitated Prison - so that the new Pavilion neither dominates nor recedes in their presence.

The typological form of the building – a two-storey mat-building - acknowledges the very dichotomy of the design challenge: by creating a mineral form, above a light base it acknowledges that the pavilion is to be both additive and visible - the new face of the MNBAQ - while at times able to recede and fuse with its site. Designed equally from interior to exterior, it is everything but overpowering. The visible, open, public spaces at ground level are there to support the temporarily of art production or art display on the vast floor above. Temporality and Permanence meet. The two vocations of the art museum merge: presenting art (over defined periods) and conserving art (for future generations).

Our joint design is straightforward and keenly economical to build. It uses natural daylight saw-tooth roofs through-out, which defines the formal quality of the building. The sculptural effects of the facades - a solidified and facetted form - will allow the building to come to the fore, the transparency and reflectivity of the ground level, reflecting and connecting visitors approaching the building, the surrounding landscape, and responding to the unpredictable lighting conditions by week or time of day. In this way, then, the building operates on a very functional level, intended like a Dan Graham pavilion in a park, to instigate these encounters and frame a context - here, in Quebec, both historical and new.

Art commissioned works, will be challenged with this building and in the process the new or repeat visitor, will be made that much more aware of the art, their place in its viewing, how spectatorship is created and questioned, or just to rethink how one "does" art. This is a more immediate encounter with art: a jestering for attention.

Given the competition's ambitions - and to paraphrase Andreas Ruby - not to create a generic space for the experience of art, the potential here is for a project that aims to create different modes of relationship between art and the viewer than the encyclopedic museum or other art spaces do. Named a "pavilion", rather then an addition or a wing, as commonly done, the museum committee has taken a delightful risk: that the budget-conscious project is to be seen primarily as one of transitory experience. If we are not mistaken, says Ruby, the etymological origin of Pavilion, is the word papillon, French for butterfly, who's short life is so transitory. The reference is more than metaphor: in our design the pavilion literally takes flight above its base, taking the visitor with it. There is now an interior encounter to instigate, to curate and that is where the director and her curators come into play.

Internal to the pavilion, is the former Cloister, recreated as a triple height multi-faceted, user-directed, "auditorium". There is no "cloistering" of programming here, but one of multi-tasking experience by the visitor. This is the transitory, non-curated encounters that the museum as a whole – four interconnected pavilions from various periods - desperately needs. But why?: for the risk-averse, it is harder to make our case. For those keen on expecting non-prescribed uses and needs for a museum-come performance/lecture/production space in the future - then this is indeed where it will happen, how the pavilion will remain competitive and relevant.

We will have to wait and see if the Jury – chaired by Xaveer de Geyter (Bruxelles) and Nasrine Seraji (Paris) – agree. The project was designed with the excellent support of Buro Happold, ArupLighting, CSA Agency among others. Imrey Culbert initiated the RFP and established the complete project team.

Artist Andreas Ruby’s reference above is from a moderated talk by Daniel Birnbaum on the Thyssen-Bornesmisza Art Pavilion by Olafur Elisasson and David Adjaye.©TBA21.org