It seems only natural that a welcome center for a park allude to the outdoors in some capacity. So, when designing a discovery center for Îles-de-Boucherville National Park, which lies just outside of downtown Montreal, Smith Vigeant Architectes chose to showcase timber, geology, and sustainability.

Collaborating with SEPAQ, Quebec’s national parks network, Smith Vigeant conceived an amoeba-like façade sporting different tiers of undulating walls clad in local woods. Some portions of the envelope were constructed with single-, double-, or triple-height floor-to-ceiling glazing or retaining walls composed of stone. A band of vertical wood slats that extend from the northern elevation to the southern side adds textural visual interest while also forming a shade to combat solar heat gain. Operable clerestory windows also aid in this effort, producing a chimney effect that enables warmer air to escape through the top.

Of course, in a region like Quebec, the architects had to address the harsh winter temperatures as well. After studying the seasonal sun angles and paths, Smith Vigeant strategically sized and positioned the south-facing slatted screen—and the overhang it’s attached to—to block summer sun but allow winter rays to penetrate the interiors. Additionally, concrete floors inside feature radiant heating while triple glazing of the curtain walls and windows helps keep cold air out.

Interiors echo the woodsy aesthetic of the exterior: Timber planks clad most of the ceiling and walls while a serpentine feature wall sports a lighter-tone wood. The undulating reception and information desk also mimics the façade, particularly the southern-elevation screen with its composition of vertical battens. From outside to inside, it’s a handsome-yet-subtle tribute to nature that prepares visitors to appreciate the real thing.