A PLACE ROOTED IN HISTORY
Le Diamant bridges the past and present in a historic building accentuated in a contemporary way.
We have been dreaming about it for 20 years and working on it for 15 years.
A Building With Several Destinies
Built in 1879, the building was designed by Joseph-Ferdinand Peachy, an associate of Charles Baillairgé. An architectural gem inspired by the Second Empire style with its mansard roof and central turret, it hosted the activities of the YMCA for almost 60 years.
After the YMCA moved in 1947, the building underwent several additions and demolitions over the years. Several businesses had establishments on the street level, including the famous Cinéma de Paris, the Shoeclack Déchaîné bar, restaurants, offices, a Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ), a dance hall, and a Jac & Gil newsstand. The upper levels, however, were left abandoned and were in a state of extreme deterioration when Ex Machina acquired the building in 2011, with the goal of creating Le Diamant.
In 2019, more than 20 years after Robert Lepage’s dream of a visionary place to gather and explore new ideas, the Le Diamant is being revealed in all its brilliance.
A WORD FROM THE PROJECT INITIATOR
In October 2017, the public’s curiosity was ignited when Robert Lepage, the project’s initiator, revealed the future Diamant. At a press conference, he led a virtual visit of the site and explained the history of the building, which is essential for understanding the spirit of Le Diamant.
A LARGE-SCALE CONSTRUCTION PROJECT
In Winter 2019, General Manager Bernard Gilbert welcomed a video team on the construction site for the first time so the public could have a glimpse behind the scenes and understand all the work necessary to bring Le Diamant into existence. The video of his guided tour explains the efforts made to preserve the historic heritage of the building’s rich past.
THE MULTIFACETED ART WORK OF CLAUDIE GAGNON
Quebec City-based multidisciplinary artist Claudie Gagnon was chosen to create the symbolic art piece for the facade of Le Diamant. Inspired by its name and the precious stone, which is represented by the glazed and translucent elements, the artist designed a multifaceted circular work illuminated by fibre optics, titled Atome ou le fruit des étoiles.
This art was commissioned as a part of the Quebec Ministry of Culture and Communication Integration Policy for the Arts in Architecture and the Environment, which aims to promote the work of contemporary artists of Quebec by integrating their art into public buildings.
THE ARCHITECTURAL CONCEPT
This exceptional architectural project is the work of the consortium Coarchitecture, In Situ and Jacques Plante Architecte
CONCEPTUAL APPROACH: A DIAMOND TO BE STAGED AN HIGHLIGHTED
Between the fragile, heritage, Second Empire styled facades of a former YMCA that is to be conserved (built in 1879), and the immensity of a polyvalent theater (625 seats) to be arranged architecturally on the cutting edge of scenic technology, it was necessary to create space within an enclosed site, in order to allow these two architectural and functional entities to exist. The decision to cut diagonally into the existing conditions uncompromisingly assures the materialization of the new theater and allows for the integration of a new semi-public space into the geometry of the urban tissue. A triangular void, which raises the entire height of the old building, acts as a space of light and life, and as a place of public dispersion linked to the Place d’Youville—the cultural intersection of the city. The creation of this interstitial volume allows the two entities, heritage building and theater, to fully co-exist and to mutually contribute to their respective appropriation by spectators and the team of the Diamond.
Photo — Stéphane Groleau
URBAN APPROACH: INSPIRING FOUNDATIONAL ROUTES
The diagonal is issued from an urban analysis of Place d’Youville, built between de Lower Town and Vieux-Québec, near the Saint-Jean city gate. Here, the angle of the fortifications deflects the eponymous street and creates an accident in the grid of orthogonal streets. From the other side of the plaza, the rise of the Côte d’Abraham follows the alignment of the fortification walls, obliging buildings to respect this accident caused by the escarpment. The virtual encounter between these two perfectly aligned oblique takes place behind the YMCA’s façade where the transversal interstitial space is created, which defines the Diamond’s volume and its programmatic organization.
ARCHITECTURAL APPROACH: A GLASS VOLUME WHICH UNIFIES
At the summit of this breach emerges a glass volume, in the background of the former YMCA. It opens onto a terrace on the roof of the reconstituted heritage building, offering a view of Quebec City’s landscape. The volume of faceted glass, treated with an upward gradual translucence, signals the new cultural place and, at its heart, acts as an urban lantern during the evening and as an atrium during the day. Bridging the two parts of the L-shaped Place d’Youville, the crystalline prism enhances the two entries which lead to the center of the project. On Saint-Jean Street, it articulates itself in facets above the main entry, taking the place of the missing portion of the original building of the former YMCA (the latter having had an entire bay amputated during the 1948 construction of the Paris Cinema). On Glacis Street, it envelops the theater’s new concrete volume, forming a large marquee which advances above a second entrance. Deploying itself on multiple levels on this side, the prism reveals a part of the lobby of the piano nobile, the social area of the administrative floor just above, and the lobby of the creative studio at the very top of the building.
EXTERIOR MATERIALITY: A CONTEMPORARY INTERVENTION RESPECTFUL OF THE BUILDING’S HERITAGE
The glass volume—inscribed between the former YMCA building with its stone facades and the new theater surmounted by a creative studio—is screen-printed to control solar overheating, giving it an opalescent quality. Restored to their authenticity and revived by their new vocation, the former YMCA’s facades will contribute to the revitalization of the public square and the street. The original mansard roof is recreated, covered with tiles of slate and tinned copper. The creative studio, which emerges behind the glass volume on the roof, is covered in stainless steel and disappears into the sky. The closed volume of the theater’s stage is built directly on Glacis Street. To counter this opacity, it is covered with prefabricated concrete panels on which has been photo-engraved a reproduction of the facade of a YMCA wing which was never built, conceived by architect Joseph Ferdinand Peachy in 1878, during an architectural competition. The photogravure process allows the ghost facade to appear and disappear thanks to an optical effect of shadows and light, and in accordance with the positions of the spectator and the sun. It remains in continuity with the building’s preserved facade, scale, and architectural details
FROM THE EXTERIOR TO THE INTERIOR: BETWEEN HERITAGE AND MODERNITY
We enter the Diamond from the Place d’Youville, at the place where the former Paris Cinema once stood. The new hall’s arrangement evokes the game of infinite mirrors and reflections, as did the original Art Deco-styled hall, using reflective and parallel black surfaces which make up the ceiling, walls, and floors. This game of mirror images gives the impression of entering a diamond’s interior. Artifacts recovered from the original hall and reinstalled on the walls, glazed display boxes transformed into a digital display system, bear witness to this era. After passing through a dark hall, one arrives at the heart of the building, in a luminous void between the former YMCA and the new theater. We enter the Diamond from the Place d’Youville, at the place where the former Paris Cinema once stood. The new hall’s arrangement evokes the game of infinite mirrors and reflections, as did the original Art Deco-styled hall, using reflective and parallel black surfaces which make up the ceiling, walls, and floors. This game of mirror images gives the impression of entering a diamond’s interior. Artifacts recovered from the original hall and reinstalled on the walls, glazed display boxes transformed into a digital display system, bear witness to this era. After passing through a dark hall, one arrives at the heart of the building, in a luminous void between the former YMCA and the new theater. At ground level, we glimpse, from the void created, a large restaurant behind the YMCA’s facade which opens on to the Place d’Youville. Taking the grand staircase, one discovers the lobby open onto the void, at the level of the piano nobile. After passing through a dark hall, one arrives at the heart of the building, in a luminous void between the former YMCA and the new theater. Deep in the distance, we again glimpse the Place d’Youville through the secondary entrance from Glacis Street. Looking up, we see the triangular void which rises up several levels. On one side, it is defined by a large glass wall which diagonally slices through the former YMCA, revealing by transparency the interior of each of its three stories. On the other, and by contrast, it is defined by the theater’s new opaque volume in exposed concrete. A monumental staircase covered in wood finds its place in the void, traveling vertically through its center, like a tree rising towards the light. The lobby is warm with its new wood floor, wooden structures from old partitions which have been recuperated and reinstalled, and its molded ceilings evoking ghosts of past rooms which formerly defined the place. The two large shear period walls in brick, with arched doors of different sizes, have been demolished and reinterpreted by cast-concrete walls which incorporate the new structure. The lobby continues towards Glacis Street, through the glass volume which exposes it on the public square.
We access the theater—in Italian configuration—from the lobby by a bridge which crosses the void separating them. We enter the large opaque volume of poured concrete, in which an ingenious and transformable scenographic decor evokes the ornaments of the YMCA’s facade. In front of concrete side walls and their technical gateways rise walls of engraved wood dyed black, carrying the arched module over two levels on the former YMCA’s facade, and creating an ambiance of continuity with the building’s exterior. The stage/theater’s floor is level with that of the main entry, in order to facilitate visitors’ movements. As for the creative studio, it is installed at the very top, above the theater and administrative floor. It shares the same level with the roof terrace, offering a magnificent view of the city.