by Jerry ElengicalJul 26, 2021
The glass box is a housing typology that has captivated the imagination of architects and occupants alike, since the mid-20th century, with the proliferation of the International Style. From Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnsons’ Farnsworth and Glass House respectively, to the Case Study Houses, North America has seen a long and fascinating history of the various permutations of how two solid horizontal surfaces and a vertical glass wrap along the exterior can be manipulated to create space. This typology has seen a recent resurgence in the form of glamping, glamorous camping. The desire for people to move away from their busy urban or manicured suburban lives has found an answer in remote destinations that are a mix of contemporary comforts while being surrounded by nature.
Nestled in Québec's spectacular landscapes is a new glamping project by Bourgeois Lechasseur Architects, called Reflection. The studio’s latest venture into the glamping world is designed as a set of two contemporary cabins in the middle of the woods. Located on a flat piece of land close to one of Canada’s most popular ski resorts, Massif Petite-Rivière-Saint-François, the two identical units disappear among the trees. The architect's desire here is not to create a portal from where visitors can look out at beautiful vistas, it is rather to create an intimate connection between the guests and nature. While it may seem like a subtle distinction, it does help determine the function of the fenestration and how a structure is placed on site. The key was to design a structure that created an intimate relationship with the surrounding Canadian landscape.
The two units share the arrival driveway and parking area, which is accessible through an unpaved road, connected to local hiking trails. To ensure privacy for guests, the two cabins are built 50 meters apart with their back facades facing each other. Along the longer facade of the rectangular structure is a completely glazed mirror facade, this wall faces away from the opposite unit, so while one faces east, the other one faces west. A considerable amount of attention was paid to the treatment of the mirror façades to prevent tragic bird collisions. The well-researched treatment was approved by the Audubon Society, a non-profit environmental organisation dedicated to the conservation of birds and their habitat, as well as several other bird conservation associations. Carefully placed on the exterior of the structure, the deterrents are mostly invisible to the human eye.
Darkened wooden slats clad the other three façades, creating a dark outline for the form of the structure. This cladding is then carried through to the interior along the entire length of the living area. The other material strongly featured in the interior is the clear pine ceiling. Used throughout the units, it is meant to replicate the natural environment outside. Creating an aesthetical balance between a rustic forest cabin and a contemporary living quarter is what glamping is all about. The emergence of this new activity has created a sub typology within hospitality design.
In this latest project, the architects opted to experiment with prefabrication. Each of the twin units consists of two modules, prefabricated before being shipped to the site to be assembled. Although the process was meant to be relatively straightforward, it led to unexpected challenges, among them a variety of mechanical connections between the modules. Meticulous site coordination was required during the final assembly. Two operations, however, had to take place on location, the first of which was the installation of the long, reflective glass walls. The second was the pouring of the radiant concrete slab or a concrete floor with in-floor radiant heating. This does raise a few questions regarding the possibilities and limitations of completely prefabricated structures.
The entrances of each of the cabins is off to the side and appears to have been pushed inwards, interrupting the otherwise mostly seamless cuboidal façades. The shorter walls of the cabin consist of this inward recess. Designed for up to six persons, each cabin features a living and dining area with a fireplace, and two enclosed bedrooms and large bathrooms, as well as an exterior spa. Cabins and accommodations such as Reflection, focus the transparency of the ‘glass house’ to the more public functions of a home, such as the living room and kitchen, while the bedrooms are still maintaining a degree of privacy, despite being located at far-flung remote locations.
Location: Petite-Rivière-Saint-François, Charlevoix, Québec, Canada
Area: 80 m2
Year of completion: 2021
Architect: Bourgeois / Lechasseur architectes
Design team: Olivier Bourgeois, Régis Lechasseur, Alexandre Côte, Valérie Gauthier
General Contractor: Charlevoix Acoustique, Window markers: FeatherFriendly