Thursday 11 May 2000

Cultural consequence

The top 500 buildings in Canada include 20 Ottawa structures as chosen by architects' institute

Maria Cook
The Ottawa Citizen

Wayne Cuddington, The Ottawa Citizen / The Chambers Building on Confederation Square was restored to its former glory in the early 1990s.

When the National Gallery opened in June 1989, visitors called it magnificent and fantastic. Then prime minister Brian Mulroney said about it: 'This museum is not merely a symbol of Canada. I believe this museum represents a living part of Canada.'

The only house on the Ottawa-area list is in Rockcliffe. It was designed in 1959 by Hart Massey and built over McKay Lake.

Rod MacIvor, The Ottawa Citizen / Notre Dame Basilica re-opened in December after being under renovation for 11 months. The $11-million restoration included the re-gilding of the ceiling's stars.

Malak / Though the Parliament Buildings were a predictable choice, the Ottawa skyline would be lacking without them.

The Aberdeen Pavilion, (known as the Cattle Castle), the Chateau Laurier, the National Gallery and the VIA Rail train station on Tremblay Road are among the region's best and most-loved buildings, according to a list of the top 500 buildings produced in Canada during the last millennium.

The list, which is the result of a nationwide search for great Canadian architecture by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC), includes 20 structures in Ottawa, one in Rockcliffe Park, three in Hull and one in Gatineau. Other than these, there are only three other Ontario sites east of Peterborough on the list: Market Square in Kingston, and Matheson House and the Perth County Court House, both in Perth, 83 kilometres west of Ottawa.

"All these buildings are important symbols in the community and they give meaning to people in their everyday lives," says institute president Elisio Temprano.

"This is a celebration, an indication to Canadians that architecture exists across this country at a quality level," adds Ron Keenberg, the institute's Ontario east regional director. "It says Ottawa has some quite wonderful buildings in it."

Last February, the institute asked Canadians to name structures of "cultural significance" and submit their entries by March 1 for a "Millennium Celebration of Canadian Architecture."

Of the 500, 250 automatically made the list because they had won Governor General's awards or Massey Medals, the highest architecture prizes in Canada. For example, the old Ottawa City Hall was a Massey Medal winner.

The other 250 were selected by the board of directors of the institute from 570 nominations by the public, architects and historians across Canada. "They are great buildings of their time," says Mr. Keenberg.

Some Ottawa favourites were predictable: The newly restored Notre Dame Basilica shimmering in the sun, the Parliament Buildings, the brimming-with-character buildings of the Byward Market, the distinctive Chambers Building on the corner of Confederation Square, which delights the eye with a rich play of colours and materials.

"The Ottawa railway station is a wonderful example of the late '50s International style," Mr. Keenberg said.

Other picks may seem less obvious, but contribute something special to the fabric of the city: The former CBC headquarters on Bronson Avenue has an elegantly curved facade, the Bank of Canada building on Wellington Street, designed by the famous Canadian architect Arthur Erickson, has a particularly beautiful glass "curtain wall" facade, while the Public Service Alliance of Canada building -- almost a boat shape -- makes a strong statement on Gilmour Street.

"The Bank of Canada building is one of the few buildings in the world to incorporate an old building into a new building," adds Mr. Keenberg.

Members of the public revealed their affection for a little-known gem called the Belltown Dome Arena where children play hockey, tucked in among houses in Britannia.

"It's a semi-geodesic dome," says Mr. Keenberg. "It's way ahead of its time and shows what arenas and curling rinks could be versus a big box."

Also on the list are the charming picnic structures at Hog's Back designed by renowned architect Hart Massey.

The only house on the local list is 400 Lansdowne Rd. North in Rockcliffe, the home of Thomas D'Aquino, president of the Business Council on National Issues. It is a unique, modern house, designed by Hart Massey and cantilevered over a sloping site on McKay Lake.

In Hull, The Canadian Museum of Civilization, Place du Portage Phase III and the National Printing Bureau made the list, as did the new National Archives of Canada in Gatineau.

Notably absent were the big box stores and commercial strip mall developments that increasingly dot the landscape. "Maybe the public use them but when it's time to lift the spirit that's not what they turn to," said Mr. Temprano.

Also absent were Ottawa's high-tech buildings -- none of them deemed a cathedral of commerce of the calibre of the Toronto Eaton Centre or BCE Place in Toronto.

"There is no reason they can't spend a bit extra to build wonderful buildings versus bottom-of-the-barrel functional buildings," says Mr. Keenberg. "They're spending $12-million instead of $13.3 million. They're not choosing top architects. It doesn't cost more or not much more to make something wonderful or something mundane. It's a matter of choice.

"When you go to Paris or Amsterdam you're mainly looking at the beauty of the buildings," he says. "If our cities and our national capital are going to be important there has to be a greater emphasis on the quality of new buildings done here."

The institute hopes that by asking Canadians to think about what's special in their built environment the public will be better equipped to fight for great buildings.

"Society is drifting away from creating memorable buildings," says Mr. Temprano. "We used to have lovely post offices and rail stations. Putting a post office in a corner store is not the same thing.

"The only way we can continue to do quality buildings is if the public demands it of us," he says.

"Is a 7-11 attached to a gas station a statement of our times?"

The list will be released tonight at a public event at the Museum of Civilization theatre from 6 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.

Admission is free and copies of the list will be available.

It is part of the Festival of Architecture 2000, which has brought 700 architects from around the world to the region.

Ottawa's Top Buildings

Aberdeen Pavilion (1898)

Bank of Canada (1934-38)


Belltown Dome

Byward Market (1830's)

Chambers Building (1890-91)

CBC Building

Chateau Laurier (1908-1912)

Hog's Back Structures (1958)

Houses of Parliament (1859-66)


Langevin Block (1883-89)

Library Tower of Parliament (1859-77)

National Arts Centre (1970)

National Gallery of Canada (1983-88)

Notre Dame Basilica (1841-85)

Ottawa City Hall (1958)

Ottawa Railway Station (1967)

Public Service Alliance of Canada Building

Regional Municipality of Ottawa

Carleton Headquarters (1990)

Supreme Court of Canada (1938-39)

Trinity United Church (1962)

The complete list is expected to be posted by tomorrow at www.raic.org