Designing An Urban Space And Making It Your Place

How can we create a dynamic urban space that will feel safe, vibrant and welcoming, and meet user needs and sustainability requirements today and decades from now? These are just some of the elements that Dominique Nadeau, senior vice president, Building + Industry, Guillaume Halde, senior vice president, Infrastructure, and their teams considered when they set out to design Espace Centro, a project that would not only revitalize the city of Sherbrooke’s downtown area and transform its community for years to come but would also change day-to-day life for their colleagues.

Presented by EXP and Groupe Custeau, Espace Centro holds significant symbolic value for EXP, as it is merely steps away from where it all began for the small engineering firm that grew into one of EXP’s predecessor companies nearly a century ago. Through this project, EXP is investing both financially and professionally in the area’s socioeconomic development and demonstrating its commitment to being an active contributor to the area’s livelihood by making it the place where it’s 200 employees will work. “Getting involved in this project is an opportunity for us to once again leave a lasting mark on the city’s development,” says Dominique. Espace Centro is one of the many projects through which EXP has shaped the city’s urban landscape and built environment and enhanced its residents’ quality of life over the last several decades.

A space to experience

Sitting at the base of the two towers, the public plaza will provide a welcoming and user-friendly place where people can relax or meet up with friends. It will also offer a partial view of the Saint-François River and front Wellington Street South, where pedestrians, cyclists, people with reduced mobility, commuters as well as service and delivery drivers all coexist.

“We drew inspiration from the amazing projects our teams led all over the continent, tailoring these concepts to fit with Sherbrooke’s unique environment,” says Guillaume. “Streets aren’t just for driving and parking anymore, they’re livable spaces. The green islands, public benches and parklets are all designed to encourage people to really inhabit the space and provide them an environment that sets the stage and facilitates spontaneous encounters and informal meetings.”

Sharing the burden

No matter what we’re building – a relationship, a building or a community’s future – it’s by laying a sustainable foundation that we ensure its quality and longevity. That is what civil engineer and senior director of our Sherbrooke Building Structure team, Yannick Langlois, did for Espace Centro. “With the weight of the entire space – including both of the towers, the plaza and even part of the street – resting on top of the 4-story parkade, we used galvanized rebar to reinforce the structure and increase its durability,” he explains.

Certified landscape architect from our Montreal office Sébastien Pinard also had a few ideas to help reduce the weight that the structure will need to support, and joined forces with Yannick. One of the innovative urban design solutions he brought to the project was to use a combination of earth and insulated polystyrene panels to build the raised islands that would be implemented on the plaza to give it relief and make it more visually striking. “This will ease the load on the parking structure and still provide the look we wanted,” says Sébastien.

A place to call home

The project is led by a multidisciplinary team that combines local presence with global expertise. Like Dominique and Yannick, Olivier St-Amour has lived and worked in Sherbrooke for many years, and during this time has collaborated on a number of projects with the city. In addition to knowing what drives the Sherbrooke community, Olivier understands what the city is expecting and looking to achieve through this project.

“My experience as a Sherbrooke resident and a civil engineer at EXP combined with the extensive expertise my Montreal colleagues have gained designing several award-winning complete streets are what our team’s strength stems from. The pandemic may have forced us to work remotely, but this project actually brought us closer together,” says Olivier.

As Sébastien puts it, “Designing for the future means creating adaptable spaces that satisfy current needs and will be well suited to new activities years from now.” And this is exactly what we’re doing with Espace Centro, a space that people – including us – will enjoy working, playing and living in, now and for decades to come.

*Originally published in EXP’s Expresso: Shaping Tomorrow