Occasionally artists will leave their medium, setting down the paintbrush to pick up a movie camera, or trading the proscenium for prosody. Though cross-genre vanity projects abound (Billy Corgan’s and Jewel’s wince-inducing volumes of poetry come to mind), exploring a new creative avenue does occasionally bear fruit (Leonard Cohen swapping his pen for a guitar, for instance). But the most compelling results often come when artists return to their original discipline, invigorated and endowed with fresh perspective.
One such collaboration between decorated Quebec City architect Pierre Thibault and one of Canada’s internationally renowned choreographers, the late Jean-Pierre Perreault, resulted in some of Thibault’s most winsome and personally beloved work.
It began when Perreault asked Thibault to design a stage set—a series of steel frames and cloth panels to be manipulated by the dancers—for one of his productions. It was a natural fit for Thibault, who had designed theaters for the Grand Théâtre de Québec in Quebec City and Laval University in Montreal, but this was his first foray into actual stage work. When the show closed, Perreault made another request: He asked Thibault to create a small, inexpensive structure based on the set to be used as a creative getaway near his rustic summer home in Rawdon, about an hour from Montreal.
“The idea was to have a very cheap shelter to install in the landscape without electricity,” Thibault says of the small cabin. As portability and cost were crucial constraints he used prefabricated panels of glass, wood, and steel for the exterior. The rough-hewn logs that support the canted roof only add to the homespun quality of the place, as do the candles and gas stove needed for an overnight stay. “It’s different than a tent, though, in that it has three distinct spaces: one in which to eat, [one to] sleep, and [one to] work,” he says of the no-frills interior.
As Thibault went to work on the Habitat Léger (Light Habitat) his experience designing for the stage—both in terms of budget and scale—came to the fore. “Working with dancers really gave me a sense of the human scale,” he says—a critical aspect of the design, since the total area was just 350 square feet.
Easy to assemble and take down in harsh winters, the small structures have proven popular with Thibault’s pals; he’s built two more for friends. Of the Habitat Léger owners, perhaps Perreault loved his best, leaving it up for the winter and simply covering it with a tarp when not in use. Sadly, the choreographer died in 2002 at the age of 55, further endearing the small structures to Thibault.
He has no plans to mass-produce the Habitats Légers, but he does imagine additional creative cross-pollination. “I enjoy working with people who are not architects,” Thibauld says. “I would love to collaborate with a filmmaker.”
Aaron writes the men's style column "The Pocket Square" for the San Francisco Chronicle and has written for the New York Times, the Times Magazine, Newsweek, National Geographic and others.