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“The Wall” Housing Structure In Fermont, Quebec

The city of Fermont is small mining town located in northeastern Quebec. It has an unusual appearance due to its prominent housing structure completed in 1974 called “The Wall” (le Mur Écran).



Pictures courtesy of La Presse by François Roy



This type of housing represents an interesting relationship between the form of the settlement, and the harsh environment in which it lives.

Located in a place with sub-arctic temperatures and high winds, the design brief was to accommodate both housing for workers while mitigating the challenges of the local climate.



Photo courtesy of D. Lesieur



The project was initiated in the late 1960s by the Quebec Cartier Mining Company, who hired the firm of Desnoyers and Schoenauer to build the town of Fermont.

The result? Standing 50 metres high with a length of 1.3 kilometres, “The Wall” was inaugurated in 1974, and is now the symbol of Fermont.

Why? This curtain wall complex was designed to protect the city from prevailing winds while developing a warmer micro-climate for town residents.



Wind Shadow Studies: predominant winds and windbreaks, ketabatic winds and the windscreen building. Pictures courtesy of Norbert Schoenauer Digital Collection



The inspiration of the Wall came from Swedish architect Ralph Erskine who had designed a similar building in 1962 to provide housing for a mining town called Svappavaara in the Swedish Arctic.

In contrast to Erskine’s residential windscreen building, Fermont’s windscreen building has a multi-use character which includes residential, commercial, and educational facilities.



Picture courtesy of Gateway Labrador



“The Wall” is home to City Hall, businesses, schools, a health centre, and 440 residences!

Architects had to define interior and exterior spaces according to the hierarchy of private, semi-public and public domains. Other challenges include providing communal service and recreational facilities to satisfy personal, social, and family needs, and to ensure the possibility of cross ventilation.



Illustration courtesy of Dominique Forget (1 – School, 2 – Health Centre, 3 – Fire truck, 4 – Sports Centre, 5 – Swimming Pool, 6 – Shops, 7 – Apartments, 8 – Hotel, 9 – Dwellings out of the Wall)



The entrances to the blocks were placed strategically so that the snowdrift does not affect easy accessibility. Moreover, architects brought all services under one roof with the hope of creating a close-knit community.

The main windscreen structure is made up of interconnected housing blocks, of which approximately 1,000 residents live. The apartments were planned so that all of them get enough sun insolation, which is limited in locations this the far North.

The windscreen itself works as a protection for other housing units within its wind shadow.



Picture courtesy of Norbert Schoenauer Digital Collection



Seven hundred fifty five houses extend beyond the structure, and all of them were prefabricated using a system of pre-engineered wood modules. The proximity of amenities allows for many residents to access services within a short commute, without driving long distances.



Picture courtesy of Norbert Schoenauer Digital Collection



Fermont’s housing demonstrates a town defined by the terms of the environment. Even though the length of “The Wall” and its appearance does not look very appealing, it serves its purpose quite well.

For more information, read this great article about Fermont, written by Adrian Sheppard, Project Architect for Fermont, Emeritus Professor at McGill University.

In addition, Anatomie du mur de Fermont can give you more details about the wall structure, and Norbert Schoenauer Digital Collection from Blackader-Lauterman Library of Architecture and Art, will give you more insight about original drawings.

And if you want more, consider listening to this excellent podcast, entitled Mur-Écran, The Windscreen from CBC‘s radio.


Researched and Written by Anastasia Grigoryeva, Post-graduate studies in Architecture at McGill University

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