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Sensitive. Contextual. Contemporary. What makes the Marguerite-d’Youville Elementary School in the city of Saguenay, Quebec, an award-winning project — even before its completion — can be distilled into these three words. The combined effort of Étienne Bernier Architecture, APPAREIL Architecture and BGLA, the building is one of five winners in the Lab-École competition, a project reimagining the future of educational infrastructure in communities along the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, and it marries the unique talents of each practice to spectacular effect.

“This project has so many fun and playful elements.”
Susannah Drake, AZ Awards 2021 Juror

First, there’s the particularly residential feel to the 3,400-square-metre institution. Taking cues from the surrounding Chicoutimi borough, the architects separated the programs — 15 classrooms, gathering spaces, a gymnasium and a tiered amphitheatre, among others — into individual “houses” along the U-shaped footprint to capture the village-like quality of the community.

A profound sense of transparency is achieved in the elementary school’s human-scale spaces by linking the seven two-storey volumes — which enclose a central courtyard — with glazed corridors (what the designers call “luminous interstices”). The restrained details and warm palette of laminated bonded wood, terrazzo and both raw and recycled regional materials also appear to almost glow with the ample amount of natural light flooding in.

The architects achieve this luminosity while effortlessly connecting the building back to the landscape unfolding just beyond, which is replete with the same carefully considered and refined detailing. Though scheduled to begin construction this year, the design is already raising the bar for what sites of learning can be.

Team Stéphan Gilbert (BGLA), Étienne Bernier (Étienne Bernier) and Kim Pariseau (APPAREIL) with Lydia Lavoie and Pascal Drolet (BGLA); Johanie Boivin and Jérome Duval (Étienne Bernier); Marc-Olivier Champagne-Thomas, Antonin Boulanger-Cartier and Marc-Antoine Juneau (APPAREIL); Dominique Maheu and Carl Gauthier (LGT); François Fortin (Rousseau Lefebvre) and Karyna St-Pierre (Collectif Escargot)

Winner: Unbuilt Projects
AZ Awards 2021 Winner : Marguerite-d’Youville Elementary School