Images & Text by OMA
The new building for the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec – the museum’s fourth building in an increasingly complicated site, interconnected yet disparate – is a subtly ambitious, even stealthy, addition to the city. Rather than creating an iconic imposition, it forms new links between the park and the city, and brings new coherence to the MNBAQ.
The intricate and sensitive context of the new building generated the central questions underpinning the design: How to extend Parc des Champs-de-Bataille while inviting the city in? How to respect and preserve St-.Dominique church while creating a persuasive presence on Grande-allée? How to clarify the museum’s organization while simultaneously adding to its scale? Our solution was to stack the required new galleries in three volumes of decreasing size – temporary exhibitions (50m x 50m), the permanent modern and contemporary collections (45m x 35m) and design / Inuit exhibits (42.5m x 25m) – to create a cascade ascending from the park towards the city. The building aims to weave together the city, the park and the museum; it is simultaneously an extension of all three.
While they step down in section, the gallery boxes step out in plan, framing the existing courtyard of the church cloister and orienting the building towards the park. The park spills into the museum (through skylights and carefully curated windows) and the museum into the park (though the extension of exhibitions to the terraces).
The stacking creates a 14m-high Grand Hall, sheltered under a dramatic 20m cantilever. The Grand Hall serves as an interface to the Grande-allée, an urban plaza for the museum’s public functions, and a series of gateways into the galleries, courtyard and auditorium.
Complementing the quiet reflection of the gallery spaces, a chain of programs—foyers, lounges, shops, bridges, gardens—along the museum’s edge offers a hybrid of activities, art and public promenades. Along the way, orchestrated views outside reconnect the visitor with the park, the city, and the rest of the museum. Within the boxes, mezzanines and overlooks link the temporary and permanent exhibition spaces. On top of each of the gallery boxes, roof terraces provide space for outdoor displays and activities.
The new building connects with the museum’s existing buildings by a passageway rising 8.2m over its 55m length. Through its sheer length and changes in elevation, the passage creates a surprising mixture of gallery spaces that lead the visitor, as if by chance, to the rest of the museum complex.
Back in time
It appears as if Oma is revisiting the past with some basic forms reminiscent of Rem Koolhaas' early work. He employs one distinct modus operandi - a highly complex, even convoluted intellectual concept, often followed by a mundane form. To be formalistic was considered a bit of a faux pas in his design studio. For all his fantastic intellectual discourse, at heart, and despite loving science fiction and envisioning utopic urban mega-cities, Rem is a traditional Bauhaus rational modernist, loving box-like architecture reminiscent of Adolf Loos, Walter Gropius, and Mies Van der Rohe. He likes the unadulterated and stackable shoebox. With this new project he re-examines the past - the elongated cube. It is where he is truly comfortable; embracing the mundane and in his magical way instilling it with meaning far beyond it's formal qualities. Rem invokes meaning where none existed - the ink that ignites a script, the oil that emblazens a canvas, the image that imprints on film. The energy is transformed from his mind directly into the brick and mortar. From mud comes the man. Under Koolhaas the simplest of forms has meaning - it is that essence that inspires governments and developers to create his visionary buildings. His buildings fulfill their ultimate potential when they are active laboratories within which humans interact and share ideas and intermingle in unexpected ways. Rem's buildings are more than architecture -- they are containers for unique experiences, events, and happenings.
- Inson Wood