Bolting a very modern addition onto a period building may give it wow factor, but there are bound to be dissenters. Daniel Libeskind saw his £100m spiralling extension for London’s V&A scuppered, and even ones that actually get built can fall foul of the critics. Such was the fate last year of Benthem Crouwel’s extension to Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, which was compared unflatteringly to a bath-tub.
Provencher Roy + Associes Architectes must be hoping for a better reception to its own cultural add-on. The Montreal-based firm has renovated an imposing 19th century church in the city centre and extended it with a glazed five-storey annex.
This box is called a pavilion, and was designed as a new home for the Montreal Museum of Fine Art’s collection of Quebec and Canadian art. Like many a heritage restoration, the architects had to manage that balancing act of being ‘faithful’ to the original building (in this case lime and sandstone complete with a dome in the Byzantine style and plenty of stained glass windows), while creating something contemporary next door – in this case a light and bright gallery space next door.
While the pavilion wouldn’t look out of place in many urban settings, Provencher Roy has snuck in some suitably Canadian features. So the glazed and domed atrium is intended to look like an igloo. A fitting venue, then, for the museum to display its Inuit art.
The practice has put its repurposing of the Erskine and American church in context: “For the past several years, the reconfiguration of Québec churches has proved to be a complex and challenging issue. A sharp decline in church attendance has given rise to some urgent reflexion, bringing with it the responsibility to preserve this heritage for future generations.”
This is something Provencher Roy will have swotted up on, having been picked by Rem Koolhaas’s OMA as its local partners on another religious intervention. They’re now working on a new pavilion for the Musee National des Beaux-Arts du Quebec in Quebec City. This involves seamlessly integrating a Dominican convent on the site with the new exhibition space. OMA’s vision is bold: a translucent cantilevered bulk on the museum’s corner plot.