For the drivers burning down the track at top speeds of well over 300 kilometres an hour, it’s little more than a blur in the peripheral vision. But for the thousands of fans gathered to take in the spectacle of speed that is Formula One racing, the new Espace Paddock at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve elevates the viewing experience through an uncommonly graceful intervention – which was recently awarded the 2020 Grand Prix d’excellence by the Ordre des architectes du Québec.
Designed by Montreal’s own FABG Architectes, Espace Paddock integrates garages for the racing team with a pair of stadium-style terraces and a lounge to accomodate some 5,000 spectators. Additionally, the complex houses a media centre for journalists and broadcasters, as well as offices for the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile – the governing body for Formula One racing. And it does so in some style.
In contrast to the bulkier – and more carbon-intensive – structures of most Formula One racetracks, the minimalist design does away with exterior walls and air conditioning in favour of open lounges that connect spectators to the sights and sounds – and occasional burning-rubber smells – of the racetrack.
Completed in a compressed one-year timeline, the building was designed to be built from prefabricated parts, including concrete panels, steel columns, CLT wood beams and panels, demountable partitions and a simple curtain wall system. For a complex that only sees regular use during each summer’s Formula One season, the stripped down design is a sensitive response to a uniquely intense but short-lived program.
While the thoughtfully pared down design allows the complex to be dismantled – and its parts re-used – in the event the track is decommissioned, the building’s bare-bones engineering is complemented by an elegantly declarative aesthetic. The wood tones and angular geometry of the exposed roof create a distinct sense of place, all while fostering a feeling of warmth seldom experienced at the track.
While it’s somewhat rare to find award-winning architecture at the racetrack, the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve’s Notre-Dame Island site is no ordinary setting. The site of Montreal’s seminal Expo 67, the island has already been home to wealth of iconic – yet temporary – architecture. 53 years later, here’s another.
Designed to be disassembled, FABG’s pared down complex creates a sense of place from a humble kit of parts.