Architects: Briere, Gilbert + Associes
Location: Boucherville, Québec, Canada
Project Architect: Martin Briere
Existing Area: 1,700 sqm
Extension Area: 1,470 sqm
Project Year: 2009
Photographs: Christian Perreault
The Montarville – Boucher la Bruère Public Library is located in the downtown core of Boucherville, a town of 40,000 situated on the banks of the St. Lawrence River just east of the Island of Montreal. Built more than 25 years ago, the municipal library needs to expand and reconfigure its existing facilities so that it can better pursue its mission and provide services in accordance with new and emerging social, cultural and technological trends.
An exceptional site
This project, which was the award winner in a 2007 architectural competition, consists of a three-storey expansion (1,470 square metres) plus an indoor renovation and refit of the existing structure (1,700 square metres). It includes an atrium, a new entrance hall, a new library promenade, a new loans counter and a complete reorganization of all the library collections.
After an initial assessment of the library’s current context, it was the untapped potential for a visceral connection to the wooded area in the adjoining Rivière aux Pins Park that was the stimulus for our conceptual approach and further development of that idea.
In contrast to the existing building, whose introverted geometry suggests only the slightest relationship with its immediate social and natural environment, our approach adopts an open, barrier-free design that we believe will convey the very essence of a centre whose essential function is discovery, as well as openness to knowledge and to the world.
An expansion that is simple, open and effective, to the benefit of all library patrons. Given the opportunity to emphasize and highlight the adjacent woods, the library expansion project offers, in terms of its implementation, its architecture and its three storey volume, a formative gesture that defines the landscape and encourages visitors and users to come to the library. Like a unifying link, the expansion pulls together the component parts, giving concrete expression to the new physical and visual elements that connect the library to its urban context and the Rivière aux Pins Park.
Inspired by the formal logic of the existing building (four similar squares that revolve around a central core), the expansion suggests for one of these squares a shift in emphasis and an opening up to the nearby woods. This establishes new, open-ended connections between the building and its surrounding environment, redefining the heart of the library and ensuring a comprehensive unity, integrating the existing building with both the new addition and the adjacent woods.
In that sense, the two main elements that give structure to the landscape and clarify its harmonious integration are a large wooded area completely open to nature and a new library promenade, a formal exterior pathway that runs through the entire site.
The woods are an identifying element visible from the street and the surrounding area, heralding the presence of a cultural institution in an urban landscape. The three floors of the new extension, in addition to reducing the actual building footprint at ground level, mean lower costs and preserve as much as possible the trees adjacent to the building. The three storeys are home to the library’s three general collections – books for children, adolescents and adults.
Taking advantage of the natural topography of the site and of the proximity of the trees, a large three-storey glass wall allows for diverse visual links between the indoor spaces and the woods. Consequently, each clientele (children, adolescents, adults and senior citizens) benefits from a distinct relationship with the vegetation, the trees and the foliage, which inspire calm, silence and rejuvenation.
Directly linked to existing footpaths, the new promenade runs alongside the building. It follows the contours of the topography and directs visitors toward the new reception area and main entrance, thereby anchoring the library to its immediate context, its neighbourhood and its town.
Taking maximum advantage of the sunshine from the building’s southern exposure, the promenade organizes pedestrian access and traffic throughout the site. It serves as an efficient physical and visual link connecting the various component elements – the main entrance, the multipurpose room and adjacent terrace, the service entrance, the two parking lots, the woods and the river and two nearby roads (Chemin du Lac and Rivière aux Pins Street), as well as the residential sector, two parks (Parc de la Mairie and Pierre Laporte Park) and Boucherville’s old historic centre.