March 11, 2019
In Quebec City, an Expansion Reinvigorates an Old Church-Turned-Library
Chevalier Morales Architectes helped restore the original airiness and civic character of the 1848 building while also adding a three-story glass annex.
Chevalier Morales Architectes’ three-story glass annex is an unexpected addition to a library in a former church, one that has breathed new life into a previously quiet corner of Quebec City’s historic Old Quebec quarter.
The Montreal-based practice challenged the design brief, adding the annex while restoring original features of the 1848 Wesley Temple church. “Filling a nave with library shelves kills the beauty of the space,” says Sergio Morales, a partner at the firm. “We didn’t want to install a very contemporary digital program for the younger generation inside a heritage building.”
Until it closed in 1999, the Wesley Temple functioned as a public library and lecture hall for the Institut Canadien de Québec. In 2018, with Chevalier Morales’s addition of studios and a digital library in the annex, the complex reopened to the public as the Maison de la littérature.
Within the original structure, a large circular opening in the floor vertically connects a bistro, two exhibition areas, and the library’s collections. “That little bistro is there for lectures, and we wanted that noise to spread into the building,” says Stephan Chevalier, another partner. “It’s a way of spreading the literature.”
The space and furnishings are bright white to amplify incoming light. A mezzanine is accessible by way of a sculptural white spiral staircase—a surprising move on the part of the architects, given their stated focus on restoring original features that highlight the church’s rich history.
The outer facade of the new annex is made of glass panels with an under-layer of perforated brass sheets, composing a subtle bas-relief. The glass reflects its surroundings, ensuring that the Maison de la littérature integrates sensitively into the UNESCO World Heritage site of Old Quebec, without resorting to simple mimicry.
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