Pierre Lassonde Pavilion


Iwan Baan

Nestled into Parc des Champs-de-Bataille in Québec City, Canada, the Pierre Lassonde Pavilion at the Musée National des Beaux-arts du Québec (MNBAQ) stands apart from its classical neighbours.

Af Finn MacLeod

Clad in translucent glass and organized in staggered rectangular forms, the building is a brazen addition to a museum campus dotted with twentieth-century temples of art. Rooted firmly in the contemporary with a subtle nod to the past, the pavilion appears — in a curious juxtaposition — to flow seamlessly into its neighbor, a 91-year-old Roman Catholic church.

Designed by Shohei Shigematsu of OMA in collaboration with Montreal-based Provencher_Roy Architects, the pavilion is the fourth building on the MNBAQ campus and the first to be designed by an international firm. It should come as no surprise that the pavilion is home to the museum’s contemporary collection: its boxy, soaring, daylit spaces with panoramic views of historic Quebec City form the perfect backdrop for the museum’s most avant-garde works.

In true OMA form, the design for the Pierre Lassonde Pavilion was guided by programmatic concerns, each element expressed as a simple rectangular volume. A strategy pioneered by Dutch designers and refined by OMA, design through programmatic massing has become the firm’s modus operandi, defining the designs of some of the firm’s most prolific work, including De Rotterdam tower and the Seattle Central Library. As OMA’s first building in Canada, the pavilion continues the firm’s established style while interpreting modern Canadian vernacular architecture in the context of Quebec’s European aesthetic. The resulting building is a surprising mix of daring composition and modest Canadian design.

Departing from the staid architecture of the white cube gallery, the galleries of the Pierre Lassonde Pavilion are organized in a series of stacked and stepped boxes, each housing a specific category of contemporary art. Expanding the museum’s exhibition space by 90%, and adding a landscaped roof terrace, a grand hall complete with 12.6-meter-high ceilings, and a staircase traversing a multi-story atrium, the Pierre Lassonde Pavilion  – the institution’s first addition in twenty-five years – ushers in a new era for the 83-year-old museum. Accommodating the demands of the long-overdue expansion, the 14,900-square-metre pavilion also hosts a large below-grade storage space and three stories of temporary, permanent, decorative and design arts, and Inuit art galleries.

Connected to the existing campus through a 130-meter underground passageway, the pavilion integrates the park and the street, creating a new entrance and public plaza along Quebec City’s Grand Allée, while establishing a new link to the museum at street level. Framed above by the cantilevers of the galleries above, the grand hall establishes a sense of kitschy arrival. As if inspired by Wes Anderson, the cloakroom is covered floor to ceiling in neon green and is flanked by a concrete frame which serves a dual role as a modern facade for the adjacent church cloister building.

Resolute in its connection to the park, the building draws nature inward with panoramic views of an array of natural grasses on the building’s three roof gardens, and features a second-story roof terrace overlooking the park and adjacent St. Lawrence River. Inside, column-free galleries maintain a visual connection to the park, while a glass-enclosed pop-out staircase encourages patrons to explore their surroundings as they circulate through the museum. Supported by a complex structural scheme, the cantilevered volumes ensure maximum gallery and exterior space while producing minimal visual disruption to the park. Replacing a decommissioned museum building, the pavilion is a considerate addition to the institution and site.

A transparent, contemporary, and thoroughly bespoke building, the pavilion has already played host to public events in its new indoor and outdoor spaces, demonstrating its versatility and longevity. A new, permanent home for some of the museum’s most physically challenging works, the Pierre Lassonde Pavilion elegantly addresses challenges set out by the institution while providing room for growth — and most importantly, change — as the role of the modern museum continues to change.