Behind the scenes

Far from the glamour of a fashionable restaurant or luxury hotel skilfully decorated, colourful and illuminated spaces, architectural projects requiring highly technical expertise are no less rewarding for their designers. Here is a small incursion in this lesser known facet of the profession with the help of CHU Sainte-Justine.


Lucie Vaillancourt, architect and partner at LEMAYMICHAUD, spends several hours a week head bent over the Building Code. Rather than choosing the location of a bar’s light fixtures, she ensures, for example, that the distance to reach the emergency exits is in accordance with the codes, or that the integrity of fire separations is respected. Boring? Far from it! For correcting dangerous situations or finding solutions to problems that seem insoluble are small victories.


The work of supervising quality control of a project over its different phases, of ensuring the respect of the mandate granted by the client, the budgets and the established deadlines are aspects that are not often highlighted. “This part of our firm’s work is lesser known,” says Vaillancourt. People think that we mainly do interior design, but we also carry out complex projects, some of which require a lot of technical expertise. Even after 35 years, I’m still fascinated by it! ”


A good example is the brand new six-storey extension of Le Germain Hotel in Montreal, done without a crane and thus without the need to close a street. It was a technical challenge for the entire construction team. “Obviously, in projects of this size, there are a lot of people involved,” she notes. When it’s successful, it’s thanks to everyone. ”


Success in the healthcare field

The challenges were also significant in the forty or so remodelling projects carried out by the firm at Montreal’s CHU Sainte-Justine from 2000 to 2016. X-ray, angiography and MRI rooms: working in a hospital environment imposes several constraints. “We have to integrate a lot of very sophisticated equipment, and when the ceilings or mechanical wells are opened, we discover a complex network of miscellaneous conduits … The voids are so full, it takes a lot of imagination and coordination with the engineers and the building’s technical service to come up with solutions. It is also necessary to work quickly because the temporary premises where services are relocated are not as functional. ”

“However, even in the more technical aspects of architectural work, it is always the people that take precedence. Their safety, their health … but also their happiness.”

The goal here is to create spaces that, despite their small size, are practical and allow doctors and caregivers to be fully effective. In this regard, the CHU Sainte-Justine Medical Device Reprocessing Unit (URDM) modernization project is a model for institutions considering renovating their obsolete facilities. “Not because it’s beautiful, but because it’s highly functional,” says Ms. Vaillancourt. It is in this unit that instruments used for surgeries and examinations are cleaned, decontaminated, reassembled, repacked and sterilized, and finally ready for re-use.


However, even in the more technical aspects of architectural work, it is always the people that take precedence. Their safety, their health … but also their happiness. “Doctors often tell us how happy they are with the spaces we have designed for them, they think everything is well thought-out.” Helping people work better and feel good in places where they spend more than 2000 hours per year, that is also very rewarding.


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