Text & photos—Antonin Boulanger Cartier
While wandering the 506 hectares of the BESIDE Cabins project, co-founder Jean-Daniel Petit had the idea to create a workshop. For him, the woods are a place of experiments and experience, lending themselves naturally to the transfer of knowledge.
This workshop would not only promote architecture, but also democratize it. Creators would produce installations across the grounds to form a sort of forest museum, free from conventions and straight lines.
To make Jean-Daniel’s idea a reality, BESIDE organized a pilot workshop with APPAREIL Architecture’s founder, Kim Pariseau, as well as stakeholders from different backgrounds and two recent graduates of Laval University’s School of Architecture, Antonin Boulanger Cartier and Mélodie Guay.
From August 5 to 9, 2019, we gathered in the BESIDE Cabins forest to reflect on how a built work enables us to experiment with our natural environment in a new way. Antonin shares his experience here.
HALF WOOD, HALF DAYLIGHT
On a beautiful late morning in summer, Mélodie and I arrived at the entrance to the BESIDE Cabins site—the residence of the land’s former owner, Jacques Côté. Once a guide in these woods, the friendly septuagenarian did not take his role lightly as he led the way to the camp. At every turn, he told us a new anecdote about this parcel of land he loves so much.
He set the stage appropriately: it was precisely the relationship between people and nature that we would try to grasp in the coming days, as we criss-crossed the vast land to soak up the spirit of the place—the genius loci. From the singing, rocky shores of Lac Charlevoix to the heart of a century-old cedar tree wonderfully whittling the late-summer light, we walked, looked, and discussed with Jean-Daniel, Kim, project manager Marie Charles Pelletier, landscape architect and urban planner François Fortin, artist Olivia Boudreau, and construction artist Stéphane Gimbert.
Many ideas were generated from this variety of perspectives. When one of us stressed the importance of our five senses in developing our relationship to the place, others raised the effects of time on the future installation. Together we dreamed, sketched, and annotated. Then, while strolling at length on the shores of Lake Morgan, we decided that our design should take root here.
More specifically, we chose a spot under a recently opened gap in the forest cover where a large hemlock used to grow; only a stump and roots remained. In an assemblage that recalls a traditional method of drying wood—a nod to Jacques’ daily life on his former land—we stacked small planks and wedges of the same type of wood.
Slowly but surely, through our repeated gestures, the installation took shape. Its title, mi-bois, mi-jour (half wood, half daylight), alludes to the intimate relationship between the material and the immaterial.
The installation delicately stands at the edge of a plot of forest on the BESIDE Cabins land, with no other function than making the visitor aware of their environment. When they enter the structure, hunching over to do so, they will smell the pungent odour of damp earth under their feet; when they straighten and look up, they will see the sky, where the treetops intertwine. Mi-bois, mi-jour will inflect how the viewer watches the rain fall, welcomes the warm rays of the sun, feels a spring breeze, or listens to a woodpecker as it makes a sculpture out of a nearby tree trunk.
Currently still a stranger here, the installation will, little by little, come to feel in its place. As the seasons pass and the weather has its way, the raw materials will age and grey unevenly. It will become a tangible echo of the passage of time, for both people and nature.
The land still has much to teach us. But I am certain that in our intimate relationship with nature, we will be able to draw up new poetries to rethink how we build and inhabit our world.
A graduate (M.Arch.) from Laval University (Québec), Antonin Boulanger Cartier is currently completing a second master’s degree in architectural science (M.Sc.) with a research partnership from Living in Northern Quebec. His thesis focuses on the relationship between living in a territory and building there. Working in collaboration with the Innu of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam (Côte-Nord), Antonin is particularly interested in promoting Innu expertise and using local materials in the construction of this community’s built environment.