Photos—Alan Adriano MacQuarrie
When he was 19 years old, Alan Adriano MacQuarrie was working at a pharmacy while studying journalism at Concordia and contemplating a switch into architecture. At the time, everyone around him seemed to be cycling. He made the leap and bought an old road bike to explore Montréal in his free time. Soon after, following a friend’s advice, he became a bike messenger and quit his studies.
Looking back, MacQuarrie recognizes that he then made most of his choices on a whim. But as young adults, how can we find and shape ourselves if we never take the space we need to do so? Sometimes detours, which some might call wanderings, are actually ways to make the right choices for ourselves.
Within the community of bike messengers, MacQuarrie learned the lay of Montréal in a way that was both abstract and concrete. He became acquainted with new neighbourhoods, streets, alleyways, detours, potholes, and construction sites. He learned how to observe the dance of downtown workers, to appreciate the details that, for many of us, go unnoticed.
“Being a bike messenger immersed me in the city, and into buildings, every day moving through and studying the city as a larger system and the buildings as the smaller components within,” says MacQuarrie.
As a young boy, MacQuarrie always used games as ways of building things. He turned bits of plumbing, electrical wires and wood scraps into a multitude of objects.
The death of his mother in 2013 brought with it a shift of priorities. With his dad getting older, MacQuarrie became the person responsible for the family cabin and land in Messines, in La Vallée-de-la-Gatineau. These events, together with his formative experience as a bike messenger, finally led MacQuarrie to return to school, in the faculty of architecture at McGill University.
When he completed his master’s degree, MacQuarrie decided to design and construct a building on the family land for which he was now responsible. The place was synonymous with childhood memories and precious moments surrounded by loved ones. Summer vacations, the holiday season, birthdays: any excuse was good to go to this second house on the lake.
The project had to meet three main criteria: it needed to replace a dilapidated shed from the 1940s, feature a mezzanine for drying wood and storing equipment, and include a studio space for carpentry and woodwork projects.
MacQuarrie designed the studio like a barn — meaning he built it primarily out of wood.
The goal was to build a structure that would breathe, using a range of materials from the local landscape. No synthetic waterproof material was used in the walls. The wood cladding, the sheet-metal roof, and the transparent polycarbonate panels lend the studio a decidedly contemporary feel, while the structure blends beautifully with the environment.
“My goal was that the material be sourced locally or available through the local lumber yard. It serves as a way of celebrating affordable materials while also allowing the structure to be interpreted as part of the vernacular.”
The project began fairly quickly: the ideation and final design were completed in 2019, the application for a building permit followed in May, the old shed was dismantled in June, the foundation was poured in July, and the frame was built in August. Since then, MacQuarrie has been slowly and steadily working on the remaining details.
Because this is the first project MacQuarrie has designed and built from beginning to end, he called on his friend Andrew, an experienced carpenter, to help with the design of the frame in 2019.
Andrew graciously agreed to spend part of his vacation working with Alan — heartfelt projects like this always tend to resonate with fellow craftspeople.
The possibility of working on such a project, in an interesting setting, with detailed plans in hand, made it a truly enjoyable experience for the two friends. “I owe much of my knowledge and a lot of the project to Andrew, I have to say.”
MacQuarrie is currently working for a small architecture firm called Atelier Schleiss Carter with offices in the Pointe-Saint-Charles neighbourhood of Montréal. Here, his love for drawing, as well as the relationship between human beings and their environment, has space to flourish every day. And when he can, the architect likes to imagine places steeped in memories and heritage which, like his family studio, create bridges between the past and the present.