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The new pavilion for the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec has a sense of humour and humility, and is designed above all for showcasing art
A new pavilion for the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec gleams modestly between elm trees. It was designed by OMA’s New York office, led by Shohei Shigematsu, to double the gallery spaces of the museum and get it out of a park and on to the street. Though the building is OMA’s first in Canada and the biggest cultural project in Quebec City for over 50 years, it is more helpful than heroic.
Named after the chairman of the MNBAQ board of trustees, the Pierre Lassonde pavilion suggests an alternative to the bulk infrastructure of Renzo Piano’s new Whitney Museum and the exhausting formalism of Frank Gehry’s Bilbao – and OMA co-founder Rem Koolhaas’s cancelled design for a glowering extension to the original Whitney. Shigematsu worked on that project and it taught him a lesson. “How could we undo OMA’s overly heroic image in the art world?”
His answer in Quebec is a building that is essentially functional and whose reticent exterior hides a sense of humour.
You can enter through a crystalline facade two stories high and under an overhang whose drama is muted by a light colour. It floats rather than looms. But most visitors will arrive through the main museum entrance, inside the park, and walk a long tunnel and up a staircase whose arc rubs pleasantly against the otherwise meticulously rectilinear design.
A massive golden elevator dominates the cavernous and monochrome main lobby, and a wooden bookshop teases in the corner like a dropped toy. The large white galleries are interrupted by similar flashes of personality, like a low-ceilinged multimedia cave and a single gently curving wall. These emerge like minimalist artworks baked into the building, which is otherwise a neutral art support system. […]