Walk This Way

University pubs are usually not the stuff of high design. Since opening 15 years ago, however, Laval University’s student-owned inaugural watering hole has aspired to be “not too cozy, not too chic,” but with an edgy ambience servicing a young clientele reaching well beyond the campus. When a complete makeover was initiated recently, the student association wanted, in the words of architect Jacques Plante, “to continue riding the top of the wave” of Quebec City’s highly competitive dance club culture.

Plante, along with co-designer Pierre Bouvier (Atlante architecte + design inc.), was a natural to take on the pub’s revitalization. A 1979 graduate from the university’s architecture school, he is a much- respected designer of award-winning theatres and performance venues in Quebec (including La TOHU, the performance pavilion at Montreal’s City of Circus Arts; and, most recently, the complete makeover of the Palais Montcalm, Quebec City’s 1931 classical deco icon). “Designing theatres is different from creating a pub or dance club,” says Plante, “but in many ways their spirits are the same. It’s about the promenade, about seeing and being seen.”

This idea of the promenade underlies the two designer’s approach to the Laval pub. But before adding the sizzle, the pair

had to deal with a difficult cut of meat. The pub’s irregular floor plan and previous layout had generated a cramped and disconnected spatial flow. Its form is approximately a stubby “J” with the entry at the top and a glazed wall with access to a terrace along the bottom. The pub’s longer axis is choked off by a stairwell, thus creating an orphan space near the entrance, while the shorter upswing was a claustrophobic, dead-end dance floor. Around the inner curve of the letter-shaped plan, the bar had easy access to the kitchen behind. But it also created a disruptive traffic jam, resulting in slow service. Not incidentally, this positioning also made it difficult to deliver service to the terrace.

In response, and with initial resistance from the client, Plante and Bouvier installed a 360-degree circular bar just off axis to the entrance and with a commanding view to the new adjacent dance floor, as well as the billiard room-cum-stage that now occupies the original dance area. With the old bar removed, a service lane facilitates connection to the terrace in summer. “The idea,” says Plante, “is that one promenades down from the entrance and swings around the bar to experience the dance floor front and centre. You can take the tour; even if you are alone you don’t look solitary.”

The pub’s centre attraction is the Pribonka black granite bar atop a circular base crafted with a mango acrylic finish and lit by LED lighting. In its core rises a translucent shelving tower also of acrylic. Jutting down from above is a chaotic forest of long LED acrylic lighting tubes that continually change colour.

But even before reaching this signature bar, a compelling sense of movement is established by a wall of undulating horizontal panels of flexible, lightweight fibrocement panels. Now out of production, this flexible material, once used as ground pads for cows, was salvaged by collaborating artist Florent Cousineau. These gritty kinetic ribbons are washed with continually changing coloured lights. Dynamic animation is also present through the sculpting of the open ceiling with plywood deflection panels and angled acoustic sheets. Finally, once the swing is made around the bar, the climax is delivered by an impressive 30-by-10-foot LED wall that dances in colour to the whim of the DJ’s computerized console.

With a modest $800,000 budget, a raw palette of materials and the ethereal paintbrush of sophisticated coloured light systems, Plante and Bouvier have ensured the Laval pub will continue to ride the wave crest for the immediate future. cI