François Leblanc to Mayor Watson and Councillors: Reject the Fifth Iteration of the Château Laurier addition in its Entirety

Rendering: Larco Investments

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The following letter was written by François LeBlanc, former Chief Architect of the National Capital Commission (NCC) and Advisor to ICOMOS and UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee.

July 8, 2019

Mr. Mayor Watson and City Councillors,

I am once again writing to add my voice to the thousands of Ottawa citizens that do not support the latest architectural design for the proposed addition to the Chateau Laurier.

Overwhelmingly, the citizens of Ottawa are telling the City staff and Council, the developer and the experts consulted that they do not like the latest design for the proposed addition to the Chateau Laurier. The public may not understand all the heritage principles behind adding a new contemporary layer to a historic place, but they sure can tell the difference between what they like in an architectural proposal or what they don’t like. In simple words, is the aesthetic result ‘good’ architecture or not? In this instance, the public does not like the proposal and is telling the authorities ‘do not let the developer go forward with this design’. Yes, the public’s reaction is about aesthetics (subjective), not principles (rational).

Aesthetic words come easy to describe Château Laurier: composition, colours, form, light & shadows, proportions, texture, shapes, balance, dominance, intensity, symmetry, rhythm, and style. All of these words can find a positive application to the Château.

The Built Heritage Sub-Committee report of June 18, 2018 does not use anyone of these words to describe any part of the proposed new addition.

Respecting the design principles put forth by international or national guidelines does not generate or guarantee ‘good’ aesthetic results; only a sensitive and skillful designer can produce a ‘good’ and pleasing design.

The approach favoured by the architects in this project is ‘contrast’ (the systematic search for a controlled rupture, wanted and significant). There are plenty of ‘good’ as well as ‘bad’ examples of projects that have used this approach. ‘Good’ examples include in my opinion the addition next to the Chateau of the former museum of photography and the south extension of the hotel reception lobby that both make use of metal, glass and stone in a contemporary way that complements the Chateau’s architecture without replicating any of the Chateau’s forms, proportions or style.

In the case of the proposed addition to the Château Laurier, it appears that the design architects are the wrong ‘artists’ for this project. Only an architectural competition or the selection of a different architect with demonstrated sensitivity to historic environment can do this.

I urge the Council to reject the fifth iteration of the Chateau Laurier addition in its entirety. I am confident that a completely new design can be successfully developed.

François LeBlanc

Ottawa resident and former NCC Chief Architect and Advisor to ICOMOS and UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee.



Contact the Mayor and Ottawa City Councillors before July 10, 2019.

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