L’École de l’Étincelle

Photo credit: Maxime Brouillet

Agence Spatiale, Appareil Architecture, and BGLA architecture have introduced École de l’Étincelle at the heart of Joachim Park, in the Chicoutimi district of Saguenay.

The architectural approach aims to “deconstruct” the traditional school and transform it into an accessible, and welcoming environment for children. The educational approach of the school influenced the project and created a reassuring and familiar architecture. The school’s mission is to create a calming atmosphere that will encourage students to love school and feel comfortable as if they were at home.

Photo credit: Maxime Brouillet

“A spark is the light that can give birth to great fires, great changes, and great dreams. From a simple spark, anything can happen,” said Mélanie Girard, the director of l’Étincelle. “Our spark has allowed us to create an environment in which students can develop into the best version of themselves.

École de l’Étincelle aims to reflect the typical Saguenay way of life; a culture with ties to the natural environment. As a result, the architects relied heavily on local resources. From its architectural frame to its interior design, the school is made entirely of wood. The building is also resolutely eco-responsible and grounded in its community.

Photo credit: Maxime Brouillet

In the left wing are the classrooms where three sloped roof cottages create small schools within the building. Interstices connect the spaces between each cottage which provide visuals to the courtyard. These pathways aim to be places for socializing. The school also features a chalet that is a dedicated space for accommodating young individuals with special needs while also promoting socio-affective development.

In terms of landscaping, the courtyard is tucked within the U-structure of the school, creating a secure inner courtyard. Here lies a sports circuit promoting physical activity, an outdoor classroom and a garden, as well as individual and collective play spaces. The layout is designed to create a subdued microclimate and protect the space from winds and extreme weather fluctuations.

Photo credit: Maxime Brouillet

The landscape architects also designed a courtyard that encourages free exploration and the organic shapes are designed at a child’s scale to create subspaces reminiscent of cocoons.

The gardens are composed primarily of native species while bioretention basin areas help to facilitate rainwater management. Spaces are designated for annual vegetable planting and promote education in urban agriculture. The topography is shaped by the addition of mounds and the variations of natural terrain. It is also optimized with the presence of a natural amphitheater as well as spaces for climbing and sliding.

Photo credit: Maxime Brouillet

The school’s electromechanical systems were developed along four main criteria: sustainability, comfort, operational simplicity, and harmony with the architecture. The technical architecture allowed for smaller capacity systems that are more sustainable and have lower operating costs.

The entire building is temperature controlled through centralized air-source heat pumps. Fresh air flows through the school using a displacement ventilation model which allows all diffusers to be integrated directly into the architecture.

All the electromechanical elements are located in the schools’ machine room which is inaccessible to students. The school also aims for LEED V4 certification.

To further explore this project and how the interiors demonstrate how earlier rethinking of children’s pedagogy has dovetailed with requirements to successfully navigate the difficult transition back to in-class learning, visit Canadian Interiors to read the cover story.

Technical Sheet

Project name: École de l’Étincelle (Lab-École Saguenay)
Location: 870 Rue Boily, Chicoutimi, QC G7J 2Y4
Client: Commission Scolaire des Rives du Saguenay
Firm: Consortium Agence Spatiale – APPAREIL Architecture – BGLA Architecture
Project sector/type: École primaire
Start of the project: Octobre 2019
Completed project: Septembre 2023
Total surface area: 3 577 m.ca.
Budget: 16,75 M$
Photo credits: Maxime Brouillet et Étienne Bernier

Project team 

Associate director(s):
Stéphan Gilbert, architect (BGLA)
Kim Pariseau, architect (APPAREIL Architecture)
Étienne Bernier, architect (Agence Spatiale)


Contractors: AMEC Construction Inc.
Manufacturers: AMEC Construction Inc.
Engineers: LGT
Landscape architects: Collectif Escargo+ Rousseau Lefevbre
Environmental and sustainability consultants: MARTIN ROY & ASSOCIÉS
Lighting consultants: NA
Acoustics consultants: NA
Electric: Électricité Sirois
Mechanics: Pro-Sag mécanique inc.
Plumbing: Pro-Sag mécanique inc.
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning: Pro-Sag mécanique inc.
Artists: Mathieu Valade
Architecture software used: Revit, Autocad, VRay, 3DsMax, Sketchup

Materials and suppliers

Metal supplier: Alutech,
Glass supplier: Prelco
Wood supplier: MiTek Canada Inc.
Exterior cladding: Juste du Pin, Alutech, Endicott, BP
Windows: Vitrerie HMC, Alumico, Prelco
Doors: Construction HMC
Interior wall coverings: Juste du Pin, Endicott, GTRL, Formica
Bathroom accessories: Groupe Sani-tech, Bobrick
Cuisine/Cuisiniste: Doyons Déprés


Stools: ROTEC Création
Storage: Ébénisterie Distinction
Outdoor furniture : Eskair
Carpets: Mat-Tech
Other furniture and accessories: Soudure GF (Garde-Corps et escaliers), COMÉTAL (casiers)

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