Montreal college extension takes inspiration from one of nature’s central elements

The façade of the expansion to Collège St-Hilaire in Quebec, which features boxed windows and a foliage pattern. Photo courtesy James Brittain

Architectural firm KANVA used ‘tree’ as a key motif while designing the extension to Montreal’s Collège St-Hilaire, to create integral connections with the outside world and within the college.

Other firms who were involved in the project were GBI as the structural, electromechanical, and civil engineer, Projet Paysage as the landscape architect, Groupe GLT+ as building code experts, and Atelier 6 in the role of specifications writer.

The college’s original building lies next to a forest at the base of Mont-Saint-Hilaire, a suburb of Montreal in Southeastern Quebec. The new building, created to serve as an expansion, juts out from the front façade of the older building and uses the same boxed window and horizontal layout as prevalent in the 1960s architecture. In doing so it capitalizes on the scenic views surrounding the campus and permeates the interiors with lots of natural light.

A Horizontal circulation space including an integrated multi-purpose tier with a leaf-patterned railing. Photo courtesy James Brittain

The façade of the building intersperses rhythmically with a not-so-subtle geometric pattern resembling leaves—from a distance, the cumulative effect on the eye reinforces the connections with the forest surroundings. The same leafy pattern weaves its way into the railings inside the new building, which also features an extensive use of wood.

Bringing the outside world into the college is not the only purpose the symbol of the tree serves. The layout of the extension is inspired by the ever-connected form of a tree, to allow for activities within the college to be dependent on the tenets of collaboration and community at three levels: extra, inter, and intra. The extra layer emphasizes the connections not just with the ambient environment, but with the greater city of Mont-St-Hilaire. Inter implies the student’s connectedness with each other, to allow them to become members of community, while intra serves them to become better equipped in terms of personal learning and development at an interiorized level.

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