By Chris Cormier. Chris is an Architect and Photographer trying to experience everything Ottawa has to offer. He is not an expert on Architectural History and Conservation. He would like you to know that everything he writes is his personal opinion and should not be confused with fact. If you are interested in his professional opinion he is available for hire. You can follow his photography on Instagram @archoftheenemy.
This Wednesday February 28, the City of Ottawa is hosting a community information and comment session for the newly revised Château Laurier addition. You can visit the City of Ottawa’s public engagement website for specific information on the proposal and the review process.
A bit of background
Larco Investments Ltd., the current owners of the Château Laurier, had originally unveiled their plans to demolish the existing parking structure and build an additional 218 suites in September 2016. Criticism of the initial design prompted Larco and their Architect, Peter Clewes of Toronto based architectsAlliance, to slightly modify the plan and release it to the public in November 2016. At this point, the City of Ottawa went ahead and set up a special website so members of the public could provide their feedback on the design. Over 1700 people took the time to respond to the request for comment and the overall impression was not favorable. Heritage Ottawa, a not-for-profit organization committed to preserving Ottawa’s built environment, went so far as to say:
Bluntly stated, the proposed addition resembles a contemporary condominium. Located elsewhere, the proposed design might be appropriate for a freestanding residential building. As an addition to Ottawa’s Château Laurier, the currently proposed design is inappropriate and stands to forever compromise iconic views of Canada’s capital.
Heritage Ottawa. November 27th, 2017
The November proposal is a clear attempt to work within the vocabulary set up by the original Architecture of the Château Laurier that falls in line with The Standards & Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada. Standard 11 in particular calls for buildings to be “physically and visually compatible with, subordinate to, and distinguishable from the historic place.” When viewed from the Wellington Street bridge specifically, the horizontal proportions, visual impression of the roof, and exterior material all clearly reference the existing building yet are distinctly of their own time.
— City of Ottawa (@ottawacity) February 23, 2018
But why something new?
For those wondering why the building owners do not just expand the building in the style of a 17th century French château, there is a central key in Architectural pedagogy that states Architects should create buildings of their time and not imitate the styles or techniques of the past. To do so would be dishonest at the very least and most certainly a disservice to a building as significant as the Château Laurier.
The new proposal varies significantly from the November proposal in a number of key ways: rather than adding floor space to either end of the Château’s wings, the new design is a single mass; the new proposal is visually separated from the original structure by a much greater distance; the new proposal has been reduced in size from 11/12 stories down to 8; the new proposal uses glass as an exterior cladding material rather than the previous limestone and copper.
Overall, the difference between the two proposals is night and day. Given the feedback following the November proposal, it is evident that Larco and Mr. Clewes have been actively working to find a solution that is both financially viable and civically acceptable. I have no doubt that the former has been fully considered and achieved, for the latter we will have to wait and see.
The Château Laurier Addition Open House will take place Wednesday February 28 from 6:30-9pm at Ottawa City Hall, 100 Laurier Avenue West. The event is free but registration is required.