The Centre d'interprétation du Bourg de Pabos was built as a result of one of the few new architectural competitions in Quebec. It is located in the Gaspé along a touristic route, on the site of an 18th century french settlement.
In interpretation centers, architecture and interpretation tend to be distinct elements. In Pabos, the challenge set by the competition organizers to make of the building a vehicle for interpretation is somehow unique. Therefore the realization of Pabos' interpretation centre can be seen as an innovative experiment both in the setting of the competition and in the conceptualisation/ construction of the building.
While Pabos' archaeological vestiges are very rich and quite peculiar, they are undecipherable fragments to the layman. The site however, evokes through its physical characteristics (the landlord's island, the point where the fishermen worked and lived, the 'barachois' closing the bay of Grand Pabos) the past occupations. It is through the site that architecture starts addressing interpretation.
Competing for the design of an interpretation center for the Gaspé region of Québec demanded the elaboration and communication of an architectural strategy, ie. how do we answer to a brief..? This strategy was presented in the form of four points.
1. Formal Position1
A structure comparable to a giant exhibition stand is installed on the point. Articulated and transformable, the structures walls open outward to the landscape in the summer, and in winter they contract, the structure closing in on itself.
In response to the seaside, in-season, off-season, nature of the Gaspé the building takes part in the regions transformation, closing up for the winter and springing to life like a fairground in the summer. Formally the project took on aspects of a giant cabinet with analogies to drawers and cupboard doors providing inspiration for the development of a kinetic enclosure system that technically operates at the level of a do-it-yourself (bricolage) project. Inspiration to this image is found in the agitprops of the Russian avant-garde, particularly the proposals of the constructivist Klucis.
The intervention adopts the scale established by the large elements of the bay region:the breakwater, the railroad, the high tension lines, the landfill of the town of Chandler.
In the loneliest of conditions, where contemporary communications render the peripheral condition ambiguous (so near, yet still so far) how is one to acquire bearings? The physical connections remain primarily the car, the road, the rail line...Fundamental infrastructures denote human foraging into the wilds, they are the structures upon which we could build. In the case of Pabos this meant establishing a relationship with the road and rail line (perpendicular) and geographical (the cross peninsula movement). Then the problem of programmatic insignificance (a problem of scale endemic to all peripheral conditions) pushes architecture beyond its traditional skin: the building is stretched, extrapolated across the site hence acquiring an enlarged (false) scale and sense of importance.
4. Interpretation Strategy
The history of Pabos is superimposed upon its landscape: images evoking this history are reproduced on pivoting perforated panels. Viewed on an angle the panels are opaque and only the image is read. Viewed face to face, they are transparent, through the image the landscape appears.
A seamless relationship was developed between contents and container, avoiding the traditional separation between communication and architecture as support or environment. The structure is a machine 'for seeing.' The structure-passage protects and directs the visitor. On its north side its pivoting walls (a kind of magic screen) superimpose the history of Pabos upon its landscape. The interpretation mediums (transparent panels, niches, etc.) are spatially and structurally significant, opening up the center to the site, not screening it off. The site and its history is interpreted by each visitor through various "clues" including, the site itself, the building, texts, artifacts, large transparent images, and discussion with guides. One interesting aspect of this non-reconstructive approach to interpretation is to leave the physical past of the site up to the visitors' imagination. Archaeology and history are often perceived as definitive and immutable. The notion of interpretation, and in this case an interpretation center, helps to underline the openness of these fields. A visit starts a process that creates a personal understanding of what happened there. More than one narrative is possible. The entire project becomes a low-tech interactive installation.
Cité au nombre des plus importants projets nationaux du 20e siècle par le périodique The Canadian Architect
Grand Prix d'architecture de l'OAQ, 1994
Prix du Gouverneur Général du Canada, 1994
Prix d'excellence de «The Canadian Architect», 1992
Projet lauréat au concours d'architecture, 1992
Chargé de projet: Anne Cormier
année de réalisation 1993
budget initial 1M$ incluant l'exposition
budget final 1M$ incluant l'exposition
concours novembre 1990 à janvier 1991
préliminaires mai à juillet 1992
dossier d'exécution août 1992 à janvier 1993
construction mars 1993 à août 1993
Jean-Luc Tremblay, président de la corporation du Bourg de Pabos