Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, October 26–30, 2014
Métissage: The fruitful encounter of differences
For over four centuries, as a primary gateway to North America, Quebec City and the Saint Lawrence Valley have provided a meeting place for encounters and exchanges between the French and British colonial nations, the First Nations, and generations of European immigrants. This dialogue echoes, of course, both American and European sources. Generally, the architecture, its urban environment and rural landscape reflect the commercial, political and social influences of the North Atlantic world. Quebec City is reminiscent of 17th century St. Malo in France. Throughout the 19th century, its architecture borrowed from both Glasgow and Boston. After 1950, inspiration came from Levittown, USA.
Métissage first came about as an imperfect translation of these foreign influences into original and often unexpected mixtures of plan, program, construction techniques and materials. Architectural métissage was influenced by cultural references, and shaped by site constraints, construction materials and the savoir-faire of both the local and immigrant builders. It spoke to the social concerns and technical means of the population. Métissage can be seen at all scales of intervention: landscapes, urban environments, buildings, interiors.
The conservation/preservation of the built environment sets in motion a modern cycle of métissage. Since every rehabilitation project can be framed as an interaction between contemporary needs and desires and tangible and intangible heritage values, it becomes in itself a métissage of past and present. As suggested by Alain de Botton in his essay “The Architecture of Happiness” (2006), architecture is a promise of a better world; conservation of the built environment is an opportunity to maintain, renew and redefine this promise.