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Volumetric Reconstruction

At a time when the word reconstruction sends shivers down the spine of many heritage professionals, it can be easy to ignore that not all reconstructions are created equal. Such is the case with many later Canadian reconstruction projects that fall under the category of volumetric reconstructions.

A volumetric reconstruction uses an architectural frame devoid of historic details to create a sense of the original structure. These masses serve as a visual aid byFort Chambly National Historic Site/Lieu historique national du Fort-Chambly communicating the dimensions and plan of a building while not attempting to include decorative features where there is no data to support them. Therefore, this approach avoids the historical romanticism and potential falsification of typical reconstruction projects. Furthermore, the resulting structure can preserve original ruins, shielding them from the elements. In these ways, volumetric reconstructions attempt to bridge the goals of conservation and interpretation which can seem irreconcilable through traditional reconstructions.

One of the best known examples of volumetric reconstruction is the Benjamin Franklin House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania but there are a number of Canadian examples. Fort Chambly The Big House, Lower Fort Garry/La grande maison, Lower Fort GarryNational Historic Site of Canada in Chambly, Quebec is a typical volumetric reconstruction using modern materials. The Big House reconstructions within the perimeter walls of Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site of Canada in Selkirk, Manitoba suggests the original building on the exterior but the interior is contemporary and serves as an interpretation centre. Here, archaeological remains were protected and care was taken to distinguish between the original and recreated structures.

The volumetric reconstruction of the blast furnace of Forges du Saint-Maurice Forges du Saint-Maurice National Historic Site/Lieu historique national des Forges-du-Saint-MauriceNational Historic Site of Canada in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, is unique in that it emphasizes the industrial process that took place at the site rather than the architecture that housed it. Dedicated a National Historic Site in 1920, it was recognized as the beginnings of Canada's iron industry and as the motivation for the establishment of the first Canadian industrial town. Sieur François Poulin de Francheville, seigneur of Saint-Maurice, established Forges du Saint-Maurice in 1730. The complex closed in 1883, after more than 150 years of operation.

The Quebec climate posed considerable challenges to both the interpretation and conservation of the site. The area is covered by snow approximately half the year, hiding the archaeological remains. Leaving the ruins exposed to as many as 350 freeze-thaw cycles per year could have caused severe damage.  Therefore, the mere consolidation and presentation of the archaeological remains was a challenging undertaking.

In 1981, after a decade long historical and archaeological research programme, the decision was made to protect the remains and take a contemporary approach to the interpretation of the Forges du Saint-Maurice architecture and the industrial process in the form of a volumetric reconstruction. The work completed by the firm of Gauthier, Guité and Roy enclosed the archaeological remains while keeping them visible to the public. The frame of the building closely follows the plan of the original building. This frame is coupled with replicas of significant machinery placed at historically accurate locations. From this presentation visitors can more easily understand how the complex was used to fulfill its industrial purpose.

Volumetric reconstructions show a very different approach to site conservation and interpretation than earlier Canadian historic site reconstruction projects. These differences speak to the wide variety of preservation techniques that have been used across Canada over the years to try and protect our heritage.