Plania: After the partial collapse of the Cap-Rouge cliff in 2003, the City of Quebec completed a temporary project to protect the area adjacent to the chemin de la Plage-Jacques Cartier—the boulevard along Jacques Cartier beach. In 2005, the archaeological remains of North America’s first French colony (1541-1543) were discovered on the site, prompting the site owner, the CCNQ (National Capital commission of Quebec), to open an archaeological dig on top of the cliff. This process, including the removal of trees, changes to the natural drainage patterns and soil compacting accelerated the erosion that had already been occurring.
Thus, a longer-term project to shore up the cliff in order to protect the archaeological remains and keep residents and visitors safe was launched. At first, the project was an engineering one. It involved installing plant-covered mesh retaining fabric at the top of the cliff and a protective wall at the bottom. Later, it evolved into a landscape architecture project, with the inclusion of a work of contemporary art commemorating the site’s history and a path along the Saint Lawrence River at the cliff’s base.
In the words of design director André Arata “The concept seeks to convey the site’s history through an artistic concept with a modern flair, where the present is written on the past, like a tablet that can be wiped clean and used again.” The concrete wall is covered with naturally weathering steel architectural panels that evoke the waves and ice that have pounded on the Cape for nearly 500 years. Corten steel was selected for its rich echoes of the site’s history—from Cartier’s descriptions of the iron ore at the site to the construction of the iconic Tracel trestle bridge that still dominates the landscape. Excerpts from Cartier and Roberval’s travel journals are inscribed on the walls, recalling their hope to build the first French colony here. In addition, the site can be enjoyed in all seasons, due to the sculpture-like form of the wall and the integrated lights.
The landscape architects who coordinated the project ensured that all of the involved parties including structural engineers, electrical engineers, civil engineers, archaeologists, lighting specialists and representatives of the client (CCNQ) were collaborating at all times. This allowed the project to evolve at each stage of completion.
By working alongside the archaeological site’s scientific committee, the landscape architects implemented technical solutions, building an environmentally appropriate retaining wall to ensure that the archaeological site was preserved. The remains were protected by soil-filled wooden cases covered with mesh material anchored into the rock. To blend the new work into the Cape’s natural look, the mesh material was covered with extensive native plantings. These plants and shrubs allow visitors to catch a glimpse of the mouth of the Cap-Rouge and Saint Lawrence rivers—the explorers’ original route into the region.
Constant communication between the CCNQ, local businesses and area residents was the key to improved signage and organization at the site. Following an informational meeting for residents and site users, the wall’s design was changed and measures to mitigate the local impact on residents and businesses were implemented.
To conclude, the project designers made maximum use of the site’s archaeological assets and constraints in order to create an innovative artistic project that incorporates sustainable development and the concept of “nordicity”, the unique characteristics of Northern cultures, by selecting low-maintenance, sustainable materials, integrating lighting into the architectural walls and using native plants, shrubs and trees wherever possible.
The high quality and artistic urban space planning of this project will allow this site to be preserved for future generations and endless discoveries.
Project title: Cap-Rouge Memory Wall
Landscape Architecture: Plania
Project Team: André Arata, Gerald Pau
Location: Cap-Rouge, Quebec, Canada
Completion date: 2012
Client: Commission de la capitale nationale du Québec
Project Type: Retaining wall and cliff renaturalization
Photographers: Denis Lemelin; Richard Fiset; CCNQ, Monica Bittencourt; CCNQ, Pierre Joosten; Martin Moisan; Gérald Pau.