The purpose of this architecture contest is to “equip the city of Trois-Rivières with an open-air amphitheater capable of seating 10,000.” Trois-Rivières is a small Canadian city (population 130,407) once known as the pulp and paper industry capital of the world. Located halfway between Montreal and Quebec City, Trois-Rivières was looking to build its own venue for hosting high-volume summer festivals and internationally renowned bands, and housing its symphony orchestra during the summer. “In the early 2000s, the city of Trois-Rivières began work on a re-qualification project. The site in question (a former paper mill) is situated along the St. Lawrence River, adjacent to the harbourfront park, the city centre, the St. Lawrence River and St. Quentin Island (for outdoor activities). Such a location calls for an extraordinary construction,” explains Philippe Drolet, architect, in an excerpt from the contest catalogue. For the first phase of the contest, Sid Lee Architecture and Régis Côté et Associés banked on the project’s historical roots and awed the jury with a vision that reflects the site’s industrial past. Their competition entry was awarded as a finalist.
The History of the Site: Tripod was an imaginary foray into the industrial history of both the site and the city, for Sid Lee Architecture and Régis Côté et Associés believed that approaching this new amphitheater without regard for its past would inhibit public response to it. Tripod’s design strategy was to delve into the site’s history and give material life to an exploration of the link between past and present through the symbolic moulding of the stacks of paper mill–bound logs that used to rise along the Saint-Maurice River like great pyramids fed by conveyors. Through this reading of residual images of the city Trois-Rivières (Canada), the architects sought to retell a story that went beyond the visible landscape and tied the project to vestiges of its past. The amphitheater was an entity meant to re-inhabit the site, with contours symbolizing the location and a profile embodying a resolutely contemporary formalism.
From a formal viewpoint, the multiple ways the horizon was framed afforded the site new prominence and thus infused it with new life. The addition of a third support anchor, which also served as a lookout post, added a final touch by providing an expansive view of the horizon. On a smaller scale, the polymorphic landscape with its profusion of architectural events offered passers-by and users an engaging panorama. The grand metal-clad wood canopy harked back to the steel-hulled ships that plied the waters while offering a striking contrast to the completely flattened landscape. The project’s uniqueness resides in its counterposed mix of scales and materials.
Onsite design: Studies by the acoustician’s team were used to determine orientation and layout. Minimizing acoustic constraints caused by the project’s positioning and the direction of the sound from the amphitheater was a prime concern. To enhance the sense of closure the architects added an access gallery along the southern (urban) flank that makes the amphitheater’s presence and the prefunction role of the new public square more obvious. Animating the venue also called for a special focus on pedestrian access, both through landscape design and entranceway functionality. Three public entry points punctuated the approach area to the amphitheater’s performance zone. Artist and spectator intimacy is enhanced by a rolling landscape, designed to follow the natural curve of the terrain.
These design details preserved intimacy inside the amphitheater while making entry points easy to identify and accessible, in order to create movement to and through the site. The broader design strategy was premised on an economy of interventions creating a spatial dialogue between the sites components: the amphitheater, the Hangar (to be reactivated), and the Borealis Museum. It presented a new dynamic of riverside openness and conversion of all existing buildings to places of public gathering. The architects extended the life cycle of this public ensemble created by these three buildings by tying everything with the riverside promenade to create a new urban sightline.
Commercial Promenade: The amphitheater’s hall way opening to the public square is covered with a green roof, and its façade was made permeable to emphasize the connection of the exterior. The architects also create a large fresco to bring art to the site. This imposing shape of the amphitheater was also intended to make the facility a focal point for the rehabilitation of the city’s riverbanks and offer a way to experience and view the immensity of the St. Lawrence and Saint-Maurice Rivers from different perspectives and scales.
Composition of the Skin’s Structural Elements: The project’s structural premises were simple: use a wood canopy structure for historical reasons and for greater durability, and match it to the strength of steel on account of the architectural concept calling for long-span structures. The strategy was to have a self-supporting structure made up of four rigid porticos in triangulated steel buttressed by two load-bearing partitions, the stagehouse side walls. These two walls were then joined by a horizontal steel beam, thus forming the fifth portico and completing the compression ring. The final assembly was trussed with a two-way wooden structure (caisson). This structure was made out of prefabricated wood laminated beams about 3 m deep and assembled into 4 m x 4 m modules. The roof is covered with prefabricated wood decking tiles about 75 mm thick.
Material Expression and Environmental Integration: The outside wall at the back of the dressing rooms and office area is a double glazed skin covered with the a semi-transparent wall system of perforated panels. This allows light to filter in while protecting privacy. These perforated panels also make it possible to vary façade textures throughout while using only a single material. The visible portions of the stagehouse and proscenium cladding match the wooden structure of the canopy. These surface areas are covered with a system of panels made of marine plywood frequently used in naval construction.