Daoust Lestage, Williams Asselin Ackaoui, and Option Am'nagement
Travelers visiting Quebec City this summer who haven’t been there for some time, and who approach by car along the Saint Lawrence from the West, will find a stretch of the river’s waterfront completely transformed. Just past the Pont de Québec and the Pont Pierre-Laporte, what had once been a largely industrial landscape dotted with petroleum storage tanks is now a leafy linear park filled with pedestrians, runners, and cyclists. This 1.5-mile-long, $63 million (U.S.) section of the Promenade Samuel-de Champlain is part of a vision for a continuous emerald swath that will eventually extend another 6 miles to an area of shoreline near the fortified walls of the Old City.
Completed in June 2008, this first phase was designed by a multidisciplinary consortium of Daoust Lestage and Williams Asselin Ackaoui, both of Montreal, and local firm Option Aménagement, for the Commission de la capitale nationale du Québec, a planning and development agency. One of the project’s primary programmatic objectives was to provide access to the riverfront where there had been none. With this goal in mind, the designers’ first major move was to relocate the existing roadway that had previously hugged the water’s edge. By introducing gradual curves and pulling the four-lane artery away from the shore at a few key spots, the team was able to recover significant stretches of the waterfront for public use, explains Réal Lestage, the consortium’s project director. The introduction of these curves, along with the integration of parallel parking spots, also helps slow traffic so that drivers can enjoy the view, adds Renée Daoust.
Naturally, the designers wanted to create an environment that could be admired not only from behind the wheel, but also at closer range, on foot or by bike. So, in order to make the immense, 50-acre site suitable for activities at slower speeds, they defined several distinct zones along the promenade’s length, treating these areas like episodes in a narrative, but providing plenty of breathing room between them.
The first zone is dominated by a 64-foot-tall observation tower that marks the western end of the promenade. The tower and the low-slung, multipurpose pavilion that share a pier jutting out into the river are clad in rough-hewn cedar boards. According to Daoust and Lestage, this treatment is intended to recall cageux, the stacks of logs transported down the Saint Lawrence by raft in the 19th century, when shipbuilding and wood export were the main staples of Quebec’s economy. The metaphor even extends to the pavilion’s roof, which is visible from the top of the tower. Instead of covering it with a conventional membrane, architects clad this fifth facade in the same cedar as the walls. “It is a total wood volume,” points out Daoust.
The tower and pavilion are the promenade’s most prominent architectural features. It logically follows, then, that the adjacent landscape, called the Station des Cageux, is given the most architectural treatment, with striplike concrete surfaces alternating with areas of wood deck and lawn. Eventually, this rectilinear organization gives way to one that is more organic and meandering, with serpentine paths leading visitors past sports fields on the north side of the roadway, and shelters placed at strategic points along the water’s edge. These almost shoe-box-shaped structures are cedar-clad, like the Cageux tower and pavilion, and have voids that frame views of the river’s opposite bank.
At the eastern end of the promenade, a subtly sculpted lawn evoking waves covers an approximately 20-acre area. This “green tide” reminds visitors that the promenade sits on landfill, says Daoust. “Prior to having land here, there was water,” she says.
Crossing the wavy grass carpet and oriented perpendicular to the water’s edge are four narrow, rectangular gardens, each representing a different aspect of the river, explain the designers. In the Quai des Brumes, mist emerges from the ground surrounding mammoth pieces of granite. In the Quai des Flots, a wood platform seems to float on the surface of a shallow reflecting pool created when its water jets are turned on. In the Quai de Hommes, a long wood path transforms into a totemlike wall at the shoreline. And in the last garden, the Quai des Vents, tall grasses rustle in the wind and wing-shaped aluminum elements pivot atop tall poles, tracking the direction of the gusts.
The promenade also incorporates important artifacts already present on the site. To lead visitors from the Station des Cageux to the Boisé Tequenonday, a hilly wooded area containing Native American archaeological finds, the designers created a long wood stair terminating in a lookout point. The new access to the historically significant spot adds another dimension to the already rich and varied project. And it is an example of the scheme’s sensitivity to the potential of the site.
Although no timetable has been set for the promenade’s remaining 6 miles, the client has acquired almost all the necessary land. The part that is already realized sets a high bar for what is yet to come.