HERITAGE OTTAWA: Remarks on Revised Design for Proposed Addition to the Château Laurier

Rendering: Larco Investments

Monday, March 5, 2018


Last week, architects for owners of the Château Laurier Hotel revealed their latest design for a proposed expansion of the hotel, a National Historic Site of Canada.

To say that Heritage Ottawa is dismayed is an understatement.  If allowed to proceed, the proposed alterations will forever compromise this significant heritage building, its prominent site, and iconic views in the heart of our nation's capital.

The Château Laurier Hotel has historical, architectural and indeed symbolic significance not only as a local landmark, but as an icon of national importance.  Dear to the hearts of Ottawans and Canadians alike, its steep pitched, turreted roofs and fancifully-articulated façades project a sense of romance appreciated from all directions, exemplifying the qualities of picturesque composition.

Heritage Ottawa outlined its concerns with previously submitted proposals for the proposed hotel expansion in September and November 2016.

After reviewing the latest proposal, attending the public presentation hosted last week at City Hall and carefully considering the matter, our concerns have been anything but alleviated.

The latest design has undergone substantial revision.

Separate additions previously affixed to the east and west wings of the historic hotel have been replaced by one continuous, horizontal mass spanning the north façade.  Physically separate from the existing hotel—and evidently intended to be read as a separate pavilion—the new building would connect to the hotel by a glass walkway.

Indiana limestone cladding has been replaced by a material palette limited to steel and patterned glass.  The proposed structure includes no masonry.

While the overall reduction in height is appreciated, Heritage Ottawa does not consider this latest design proposal to be a meaningful improvement over previous versions, for several reasons.

The massing and materials make no attempt to respond thoughtfully to, interact with or even acknowledge the distinctive design and forms of the historic hotel.  The rectilinear form, near-symmetry and relentless horizontality of the proposed new structure are entirely incompatible with the Château Laurier’s picturesque character and romantic sensibility.  The exclusive use of steel and glass creates a jarring contrast, which at night will create a “lantern” effect that will overwhelm vistas of Parliament Hill.

A proposed courtyard and green space between the new structure and the historic Château appear attractive, but these are private amenities available to hotel guests only, which in no way justify construction of an incongruous addition to a National Historic Site.

The proposed structure looms over Major’s Hill Park, replacing much-loved views of the Château with a harsh and unwelcoming barrier.  The iconic view of the north side of the Château, commemorated in the past on Canada’s one-dollar bill and a Canada Post stamp, will be disfigured by a visually intrusive and thoroughly discordant addition.  Only a glimpse of the Château's uppermost rooftops, behind the new eight-storey structure, is possible when seen from a distance.

When advancing south along the Park's central pathways and lawns, all views of the historic structure vanish, robbing the historic Park of an important visual component which is integral to its unique sense of place.

The proposed new structure would forever compromise key panoramic vistas from the Rideau Canal locks, the Ottawa River and Quebec shoreline, the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of History, and from Parliament Hill itself.  These views are of national significance.

Simply stated, the proposed building competes with and opposes, rather than complements the original historic hotel and its environs.  Rather than being deferential, the design scorns the architectural style of the heritage building.

As a building designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, any addition to the Château Laurier requires approval by Ottawa City Council.  Under the Act, owners of the Château Laurier are required to submit a detailed heritage application to the City.  City staff indicate that a heritage application seeking permission for this addition has now been filed.

This proposed addition to the Château Laurier will be the most important heritage application to come before this session of Ottawa City Council, and possibly the most important heritage application in the city of Ottawa of this generation.

Heritage Ottawa calls upon the Mayor and Ottawa City Councillors to be leaders in defending our local and national heritage, by applying the Ontario Heritage Act to its fullest extent to protect the Château Laurier from this inappropriate and undesirable change.

The Château Laurier is too important a building, at too important a location, to settle for anything less than a solution of architectural excellence that respects the exceptional qualities of the historic building and its unique setting, and contributes to the further enhancement of the Nation’s capital.

Until a design is presented that satisfies these criteria, expansion of the Château Laurier should not be permitted.


UPDATE: Read Heritage Ottawa's Statement of June 3, 2018 on the Latest Iteration of a Proposed Chateau Laurier Addition


Your Voice Matters!

The City of Ottawa is seeking public reaction to the proposed Château Laurier addition.

Heritage Ottawa encourages all concerned citizens to review the proposal drawings and to

complete the city's Online Feedback Form before Friday, March 9

to make your views known.

Your actions can help to preserve the integrity of this important heritage building. Thank you.