AtelierCarle: Capo Country House Residence Amazes In Quebec

AtelierCarle has designed a stunning stone cottage high above the St. Lawrence River.

The natural landscape of Earth has always brought forth innovation and imagination from humans about where, and how, they might inhabit our planet. Some of the most seemingly inhospitable places are somehow our homes, such as the rocky cliffs high above the St. Lawrence River near Baie Saint-Paul in the Charlevoix region of Quebec, the location of CAPO, a stunning cottage and country house imagined and designed by architect Alain Carle of AtelierCarle of Montreal.

In a location that would seem almost impregnable to most mortals, Carle has created what surely must be one of Canada’s most remarkable residences, which fits perfectly within its natural environment, while emphasizing the most perilous limits of habitability within its spectacular location. The 3,200-square-foot residence sits high upon a cliff reached through natural pathways that wind and climb through different landings to the structure. Carle therefore played off these natural features by including stairways and pathways that connect both the inside and outside living spaces.

CAPO was built in 2022 and was designed to accord with a pre-existing organic path of circulation on the very difficult site. Carle’s imagination resulted in a project that settled into the unstable nature of living, with a view that a body is always in motion, thus steering away from the usual conventions of spatial planning. Movement is thus central, both in its presence in the design of the project and in the dramatic diversification of the points of view it provides.

The residence reflects movement as it is fragmented into living areas of varied shapes and orientations, all the while positioning the spectacular views of the river as among the main features of the home. The large panoramic terrace overlooking the St. Lawrence River is complemented by other outdoor spaces with direct access from the interior.

The residence’s circulation unfolds from the top of the site, where the main entrance is located, characterized by a loggia opening onto the river. This loggia allows one to cross the home to access the terraces facing the river without having to enter the building, another demonstration of the flexibility of movement that Carle envisioned, as free as if one was exploring the nearby forests.

Further down the site, at the end of the staircase and exterior terraces, a final space opens onto a natural plateau, surrounded by the cliff and the large century-old pines that make this area of the St. Lawrence River so popular with nature lovers. This space connects to the end of the pre-existing natural pathway that so dominates the site.

The impressive masonry was completed by Maçonnerie Charlevoix and more than the distinctive location, it is the design anchor of the home. The residence was built in a specific and unique manner by the owners themselves, slowly and over a long period of time. This left Carle and his team with a great deal of design flexibility during the construction process and allowed them to consciously integrate the owners into the design process. The end result of this collaboration was to allow the owners to question their way of life and to examine several stereotypes of living.

CAPO is a highlight of Alain Carle’s journey over more than 25 years as a leading and respected architect. This year, Carle joined forces with five key collaborators to become AtelierCarle. Formed by creative and daring minds, the firm’s team presents projects where the specificity of place, the precise work of materiality and diversified construction techniques play an integral role in the creative process, so evident at this home outside of Baie Saint-Paul, Quebec.

The first thought upon seeing this rocky cliff above the St. Lawrence might be “How can anyone live here?” Upon the CAPO residence revealing itself, that initial thought might quickly switch to “How can anyone not live here?”

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Rick Muller

Rick Muller