Olivier Lajeunesse-Travers and Guillaume Marcoux of Montreal-based Microclimat on client reactions, creating beaches in Montreal and why they’re pursuing microdevelopment.
(Responses translated from French)
1. What does the client think of the Maison Desmarteau?
The clients are very happy to have placed their bedrooms, living room, kitchen, and dining room on the second floor rather than on the ground floor. They’re a couple from the Charlevoix region of Quebec and the act of relocating the living spaces to the second floor, in close proximity to the foliage of the large trees lining the street, give them the impression that they have returned to the countryside of their childhood.
Moreover, it’s always a source of joy for the designer when clients tell us that they felt right at home within the first couple of days they have inhabited a space.
2. Explain the importance of the waterfront project, Les Plages de L’est (The East Beaches), for Montreal?
It is a competition that promotes a vision that is shared by more and more citizens and elected officials in Quebec, which is the idea of getting back access to the St. Lawrence River and integrating those banks in urban life. There are numerous projects in the works or that have been completed along those lines. The Promenade Samuel de Champlain in Quebec City is a shining example of this.
The site of our project in on the eastern tip of the Island of Montreal on a site that was left abandoned and offers a splendid view of the Boucherville archipelago. We were absolutely seduced by the raw beauty of those islands and our original proposal was essentially to reappropriate those riverbanks and give them some of the beauty of the Boucherville archipelago.
Since there were a few nice parks close to the competition site, we decided to give them a different function by designing the area to accommodate nautical activities. This parti allowed us to minimize the intervention in order to let the reappropriation of the riverbanks play a larger role in the project. We also proposed the development of a pavilion tower to be a lookout onto the river where people will be swimming, kayaking and enjoying themselves on the beach.
3. In your opinion, what is the difference between micro-development and the work performed by residential architects?
In all honesty, even though we are architects, we do not want Microclimat to only be an architecture firm, but also a real estate developer. There are already many talented firms in Montreal, though the number of inspiring residential real estate projects is small. We believe that there is a clientele for quality housing in the city, that is not necessarily high-end. Rather than wait for the ideal developer to knock on our door, we decided to establish a design firm and a construction company as well, which we operate part-time. This is how we do micro-development.
To respond to your question of micro-development, it is the development of residential projects on small sites, often ignored by developers because of their size. We are particularly interested in laneways and backyards. During the past two years, we have built a portfolio and a network of contacts to create an expertise for the firm before going fully into development.
4. The Atelier Aylmer seems like it was an amusing project. Explain the challenge of creating a workspace that it both original and vernacular.
Yes, it was an amusing project. The atelier, and the adjacent house, is a retirement project for a new resident to Aylmer, who wanted to buy and restore an old house. The atelier is the first phase of the project and acts as a point of reference for the client, a person who loves building things. It’s the cornerstone of a larger construction project.
The client didn’t have any formal expectations for the design of the atelier. Many of our clients bring us images of contemporary projects during the first few meetings, but this client brought us issues of Fine Home Building, a magazine for amateur carpenters and do-it-yourselfers, with a lot of arts and crafts and more mouldings than in many of our projects.
Naturally, we decided to design an atelier that took a traditional form, with a simple construction and that would facilitate woodworking. The simple form of two roofs of equal slopes was inspired by the adjacent garage and the palette of materials was influenced from the nearby marina and neighbourhood of Old Aylmer.