On the grounds of the Au Gré des Champs farm and cheese dairy, a path leads us from building to building, which lie clustered together in a joyful disorder. At the far end towers a large structure of wood and metal with translucent walls. Despite its futuristic appearance and imposing size, it blends in naturally with the hilly Montérégie landscape.
Is it a hangar? A multidisciplinary arts hall?
Actually, it’s a cattle barn.
When Marie-Pier Gosselin first had an inkling that she would be taking over the family farm, she wanted to create a new living environment for their 55 cows and a new workspace for their team. “It began from a practical need, obviously. The old cowshed was built by my grandfather in 1963. It was no longer exactly up to standard,” explains Marie-Pier. “Farms generally grow by adding barns, extensions, sheds — in short, without really having the big picture in mind.”
Marie-Pier wanted a place that would reflect the farm’s rich history, borne by three generations.
It was her parents, Daniel and Suzanne, who set up the cheese dairy in 2000 with the goal of showcasing their organic milk — which was still a rather fringe product at the time. In the dairy, they make a wide range of raw milk cheeses that are distributed throughout Québec.
Beyond her desire to pay tribute to her family heritage, Marie-Pier’s interest in architecture and design also pushed her to rethink the cowshed. How could aesthetics, functionality, and user-friendliness be combined? Looking through lists of architectural competition award winners, she fell in love with SHED, a Montréal firm that was mainly doing residential projects at the time. Particularly charmed by their playful touch and use of simple, understated materials, Marie-Pier contacted the firm at the beginning of 2017. She was looking for a young team that her unusual project would speak to — because, after all, building a home for cows remains unusual.
Marie-Pier also wanted to re-examine industry practices — and her desire shines through in the building’s design. The cow-house is the cows’ home, where they are treated with care.
Here, the “girls” have about six times more space than in a traditional cowshed. In the summer, they spend their days outdoors in the pasture and only return for milking and meals. In the winter, they spend most of their time in the cowshed — their dairy cathedral, dare I say. When they look up, they can see the sky and feel the sun.
The cowshed’s wooden skeleton is visible from the outside, thanks to the translucent panels of the walls and the roof, which allow natural light to flood the space during the day. The interior hemlock siding recalls materials traditionally used in farm construction.
Marie-Pier is thrilled with the result. She points out that light increases fertility and milk production and boosts the morale of both cows and workers. Goodbye, dark and damp barn! The SHED team’s goal was to “put respect for the rural landscape and agricultural heritage at the heart of the cowshed’s design. Such notions are often pushed aside today, as optimizing production is favoured over concern for the animals’ comfort.”
In 2020 the project earned well-deserved awards in architecture and design competitions. As its creators explain, each time the workers visit the building, they get to experience the farm, a nice addition to their daily routine.