OTTAWA—I have written the prime minister of Canada on the matter of the proposed controversial architectural addition to Ottawa’s Château Laurier Hotel. As the prime minister may be aware, Larco Investments, the hotel owners are planning a rather prominent expansion to this iconic architectural and historic landmark in the heart of the national capital.
The proposed architectural design has horrified many Canadians for its unsympathetic visual impact on the picturesque heritage values of the Château Laurier, a national historic site.
The proposed addition impulsively disregards our national design standards that require new architectural additions to be compatibile with our heritage landmarks, according to Parks Canada Standards and Guidelines for Historic Places in Canada, 2008).
The proposed addition, an architectural box, aptly named the “radiator,” will also visually intrude into the treasured viewscapes of the Rideau Canal UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Canadian one dollar banknote (1973) captures one of these iconic views.
If this visual intrusion weren’t enough, the proposed expansion will cleverly conceal the views of Ottawa’s beloved Château from Major’s Hill Park, where untold thousands of citizens gather daily to admire and enjoy the beauties of our capital.
A quick glance at the two images should suffice to illustrate the “before and after” makeover of this romantic view from Major’s Hill Park, identified as Key View “A” by the NCC. For your information, the “after” view is not exaggerated. The proposed seven-storey hotel addition is 97 metres long, almost the length of the Redblacks football field at Lansdowne Park.
Sadly, the City of Ottawa has already approved this architectural eyesore, despite the fierce opposition of thousands of citizens (including heritage scholars and the City’s Built Heritage Sub-Committee).
And sadly, the National Capital Commission (created to foster and protect the character of the national capital) has claimed that it has no authority to intervene on a privately owned property in the Parliamentary Precinct.
If the prime minister is now concerned about this imminent act of visual vandalism in the heart of our capital, please intervene.
First, convene a meeting with Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, who is responsible for the NCC, and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, who is responsible for Parks Canada, and quietly suggest that they find a way to protect Parliament’s wonderful visual setting by demanding and enforcing a revised design for the Château’s expansion.
Second, invite the owners of the Château Laurier, the reclusive billionaire Lalji family, (who also own a portfolio of major office buildings in Ottawa rented by the Government of Canada), to voluntarily redesign their addition to our cherished Canadian heritage landmark. A national design competition could bring untold esteem to their reputation and a design worthy of our national capital.
Remembering that prime minister Wilfrid Laurier’s Dominion government sold a part of Major’s Hill Park in 1909 to enable the construction of the Château Laurier, I wonder what he would think today about the current prosaic proposal to remake the Château’s architectural identity?
Sir Wilfrid promoted the vision of an Ottawa as a “Washington of the North,” a capital that would inspire generations of Canadians.
The vision for the new Château Laurier just inspires dismay.
Barry Padolsky is an Ottawa architect, urban design and heritage consultant, and a member of the City of Ottawa Built Heritage Subcommittee.
The Hill Times
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