The United States has historically looked westward, from the first European settlements on the East Coast, across the prairies and Rocky Mountains all the way to California. Canada has similarly looked west, from Québec and the Maritime Provinces to oil-rich Alberta and scenic British Colombia. Canada however also looks north, from population clusters along the U.S. border north beyond the tree line to distant tundra and icy redoubts above the Arctic Circle. Some consequential spirit of ground and sky, impacted by light and nature, animates the architecture of Gilles Saucier and André Perrotte. Their buildings view and frame a mythic horizon.
Saucier + Perrotte Architectes operates out of Montréal, one of the most historic of Canadian cities and one with a hardy yet elegant character evocative of both Europe and North America. Even when dealing with urban infill sites, Saucier and Perrotte invest their architecture with topographical or topological strategies, with layering visible in plan, section and elevation. The outcomes are not simple representations of the natural world but embrace the potential of structure and infrastructure to allow even comparatively modest projects achieve mass and to simultaneously provide shelter. Saucier + Perrotte Architectes’ most original work communicates a sense of habitation that is both literal and psychological.
The architects’ recently completed Stade de Soccer is in an inner suburb of Montréal and aligned with an axial artery, Avenue Papineau, as are other facilities for exhibition and leisure. It is therefore a highway building, that basic North American typology that triggered Venturi and Scott Brown’s dichotomy, now several decades ago, of building as “duck” versus building as “decorated shed”. Yet the Stade de Soccer is not a barrier to passersby. At key points, the structure opens up to permit access to the interior and, more tellingly, to create dramatic portals to an impressive public park to the north, potentially the second largest in Montréal, as much a post-industrial as it is a natural landscape.
If their architecture evokes the natural world even when embedded in the modern metropolis, here in Montréal suburbia they find themselves in a particularly fortuitous position. Avenue Papineau establishes a distinct edge reinforced by a significant and protective berm of earth. This linearity is echoed inside the building by the arrangement of communal areas and service spaces, visible from outside as an illuminated seam between berm and roof, and by attenuated terrace seating that overlooks the sports hall itself. These striations extend the building mass westward as two parallel ribbons of bleachers, railings and protective screens that frame the second soccer pitch outdoors.
These interior and exterior soccer fields are like positive and negative siblings, the former protected by Saucier + Perrotte Architectes’ vast canopy roof, the latter lightly embraced by its tendril-like extensions. Such dualities or opposites are also in play at a larger scale. Like all Montrealers, the architects are inevitably aware of Mont Royal, that picturesque outcrop in the scenography of the city. Immediately adjacent to the new soccer stadium, an abandoned quarry - a gaping hole - has yet to be integrated into the post-industrial park.
The Stade de Soccer is thus situated between positive and negative extrusions, volumes that are respectively convex and concave, solid and void.
The architects have grasped the normative requirements of a rectilinear form to shelter the pitch and attendant facilities. In fact they’ve taken advantage of its size and bulk to realize a tailored intervention into the ground surface at robust scale. The vast roof appears to float away from the berm alongside Avenue Papineau. It is tethered down to the east and the west - the shorter ends - where the massing gathers into taut limbs that connect this oversailing carapace down to the ground. Inside, three of the four surrounding walls, membranes of fritted glass, offer sports fans extensive views from the protected hall out into the Canadian landscape.
The simple array of grey columns along each façade is almost invisible in this grey/green/brown interior world. The design deliberately underplays these vertical elements so that the great hovering roof above and the visually seamless connection to the outdoors are what impress visitors and remain, at least with no game in progress, in the imagination afterwards. Tests ensure that the glass is sufficiently strong to resist frequent bombardment by wayward footballs. Made from cross-laminated wood, the roof structure of deep parallel beams is slightly askew of the perimeter geometry.
The placement of linear light fittings on the underside of beams creates an electric ornament reflected and multiplied in the glass enclosure. The big, almost geological thrust of the stadium roof is enlivened by a few carefully selected and distilled details. Again there may in these subsidiary details be some resonance with patterns and phenomena observed in nature. The external zinc cloak is folded and pleated as a set of contiguous triangles. Notice how the seams in the zinc appear to be irregularly spaced yet are composed from three regular modules; and how these seams are not contiguous from one facet to the next. Such geometric slippages allow the architecture seem paradoxically more natural.
The architecture of Saucier and Perrotte is, one might argue, simultaneously natural and sophisticated. Together with the embrace of nature and of structure at a large scale, there are intuitive aspects to their designs that operate in the realm of design as a visual art form. The berms, for example, that “protect” the building from passing traffic and allow for the preservation of mature trees. (Is there in those sloping elements some memory of the oblique planes favored by the late Claude Parent?) And then the introduction of light and color, as in the crystalline boxes accommodating social spaces parallel to the avenue.
As in other works by Saucier + Perrotte, a glass cuboid pushes out from the primary architectural form. A heliotropic chamber that signals interior activity and life. At once sheltered and exposed.