Making the best of what nature has to offer, a vacation house in Quebec sheds positive light on the city’s booming architecture scene
Quebec’s unique architecture is closely tied to its history and culture. Often described as a crossroads between Europe and America, it has long been a meeting point of architectural influences from the UK, France and the UK. And thanks to the city’s heritage preservation and continuous recognition of outstanding modern buildings, the cityscape of Quebec is characterised by the intriguing co-existence of old and new.
The professional association Ordre des Architectes du Québec (OAQ) recently announced the winners of its 2011 Awards of Excellence in Architecture. Now in its 26th year, and with a significant increase in the number of entries, the awards are a sure sign of optimism for the vitality of Quebec’s architecture.
La Cornette, which scooped the first prize in the residential category, speaks for itself with its precise combination of tradition and modernity. Working in collaboration with the Société d’habitation du Québec, architects Marie-Claude Hamelin and Loukas Yiacouvakis of YH2 architecture conceived an ingenious concept for this 3,000 sq-ft, co-owned vacation house for two families.
According to the architects, La Cornette offers the concept of sharing the second house as a more responsible mode of consumption of the built environment. Designed as a countryside hideaway for family gatherings and a holiday retreat, the layout of the house allows everyone to get together while providing private areas insulated from the common spaces.
The house also responds to the need to have a large residence that can host the extended family for celebrations, on the model of traditional Quebec houses that brought together large families and their relatives.
Adapting the elevations of the house to the corresponding landscape – lake, field, stand of pine and barn – was among the design challenges which had to be overcome. Apart from using fibre cement as the single material of the façade, the architects opted for a structure that blends seamlessly and almost disappears into its surroundings.
Located at the town of Cleveland, Quebec, La Cornette was built on a small site on the slope of a hill and required no trees to be cut down for its construction. Tucked among existing mature trees, the design enables close contact between architecture and nature. The narrow site, varied scenic views, the sun’s path and the direction of winds inspired a rectangular form for the house, situated along the slope in a southwest-northeast orientation.
In summer, the house is shielded from the heat of the sun thanks to shading provided by the greenery. On the southeast side, above the foliage of a century-old apple tree, bands of narrow horizontal windows measuring 50cm in height and 30cm in depth reduce powerful sunlight like gigantic shutters during the summer months, while illuminating the interiors with natural light in winter. On the southwest side, where the site opens to the neighbouring fields, a huge V-shaped roof – a cantilevered structure made completely out of wood – acts as a parasol to protect the house from adverse weather conditions. A 100 per cent windowed façade on the southwest side gains and stores solar energy to provide heating in winter.
Inside the house, wood is everywhere – painted or natural, in planks or panels, even appearing as made-to-measure furniture pieces, from the large wrap-around couch in the living room to the feature wall with cut-out shapes of fireflies, fish, and frogs. In its thoughtful response to nature, La Cornette succeeds in more than just being part of the local scenery – it simply belongs there, as though it is an extension of the natural landscape.