Museum of Civilization, Quebec City

By Zephyr Fang

Last month I spent a weekend in Old Quebec City. The town was built by French settlers in the 17th century.  They started from a strip of land under the cliff along the St. Lawrence River, then moved to the top of the hill. Today, this hill separates the towns into a lower town and upper town.

Map of Canada

I found that most buildings in Quebec City are two or three story masonry houses with tall and steep roofs, designed in the “New French Style”. The architecture of Old Quebec reminded me of Europe. Walking down the maze of cobblestone streets and sitting at the town square, people watching and listening to street musicians.

Masonry houses with steep roofs

Before leaving Quebec, I debated checking out the Museum of Civilization by the river. I was afraid visiting a modern building at the end of the trip would cloud my memory. In the end, I’m glad I chose to go. 

North Elevation

North Elevation

The Museum of Civilization building was designed by Moshe Safdie in the 1980s. It is a textbook example of how to respect tradition. It mimics adjacent buildings with its height, materials and proportions. 

North Entrance

Despite the modern details, it adopts the "New French Style" characterized by massive walls, narrow deep openings, and dramatic dormers on the steep roof.

Detail of wall, window and roof

Detail of Medallion and Window

Detail of Local Grey Limestone Wall

The grand roof top stair connecting the front and back of the building provides a great view of the river. 

Riverside Elevation

Riverside Entrance and Roof Stairway

Unfortunately, I did not have time to go inside, but I will save that for my next trip for sure!