Heritage Ottawa Statement: Proposed Addition to Château Laurier

ABOVE: Addition rendering: architectsAlliance. Compositing: Barry Padolsky Associates Inc. Architects. BELOW: Rendering: architectsalliance
Tuesday, August 18, 2020

HERITAGE OTTAWA

Heritage Ottawa would like to begin by thanking the Friends of the Château Laurier, the individuals from across the country and the Canadian foundations who helped us raise over $150,000 in support of our campaign to stop the inappropriate addition to the historic Château Laurier hotel.

BACKGROUND
Since the beginning, Heritage Ottawa has said that, while the owner of the Château Laurier is certainly entitled to build an addition to his privately-owned property, it must be one that meets national standards for the addition of new construction to historic properties and respects the site’s nationally significant landscape.

To that end, we launched a legal battle against the City of Ottawa who last summer inexplicably approved the construction of a widely vilified horizontal bar-shaped addition that blocked the rear view to the historic hotel. It was this design that we have been legally challenging for over a year. 

Last September, we achieved partial success at the Committee of Adjustment, obtaining a favourable ruling on one of two requests for variances by the owner, and both sides filed an appeal with the provincial Local Planning Appeals Tribunal (LPAT).

The funds raised have been used exclusively to cover legal and consultant fees and related expenses directly associated with our challenge at the Committee of Adjustment, the months of work leading up to the LPAT hearing (postponed due to COVID-19), and the opportunity it provided for both parties to discuss a possible settlement.*

AN AGREEMENT REACHED
Heritage Ottawa was approached this past winter by the owner with the offer of a radically new design that abandoned the monolithic bar-shaped building in favour of a two-pavilion design with a low-rise glass connector. A design approach that extended the existing wings of the hotel and reopened its rear courtyard was one that we were willing to try and work with.

Throughout the process that led from this first new design concept to the final version we agreed upon, Heritage Ottawa consulted with internationally respected Canadian architectural and conservation experts Phyllis Lambert, Dr. Christina Cameron, Prof. Lyette Fortin and Barry Padolsky, who willingly donated their time. Their vast knowledge, understanding of materials, and wisdom with respect to melding modern and historic architecture proved invaluable.**

The proposed new addition is not a historical replica, which Heritage Ottawa never advocated, but it is more compatible with the hotel’s composition and irregular silhouette. In its new form the iconic views to the rear are exposed, revealing the original building’s U-shaped pattern and picturesque qualities from Major’s Hill Park. The low-rise connector between the two pavilions is lower than the parking garage it replaces, and it is transparent.

The preponderance of Indiana limestone cladding with copper and bronze elements in the new design is in keeping with the materials of the historic hotel, resulting in a significant improvement over the glass covered rectangular addition approved by City Council. These material changes, the opening up of views into the courtyard and the subtle delineation of the massing of the two pavilions into three sections that align with the hotel, together form a contemporary design that meets the requirements set out in the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada.

In the end, we have a new work that meets the important guideline that it be “physically and visually compatible with, subordinate to and distinguishable from the historic place.”

This ground-breaking change-of-course would not have been possible without the support of Ottawa citizens and Canadians from across the country. Their response to the absence of government action made it possible for Heritage Ottawa to take legal action to arrive at a better outcome for this beloved building than what the owner had received approval to build.

This breakthrough and our partial success at the Committee of Adjustment were the key elements that, we believe, led the owner to take pause, reconsider the public's concerns, and to willingly consider working with Heritage Ottawa to revise the design in favour of a more compatible scheme that better respects the heritage character of the Château Laurier.

This quote from our president Richard Belliveau sums it up:
“From the beginning we have called for an appropriate contemporary architecture that respects the heritage characteristics of the hotel, and we are pleased with this result. Heritage Ottawa could never have achieved this outcome without the advice of heritage experts and historians, and more importantly, without the financial and moral support of the Friends of the Château Laurier and the hundreds of Canadians who gave so much to this important cause.”

The Minutes of Settlement and associated design will require final approval by LPAT and the City of Ottawa. The public will have an opportunity to comment on the revised design as part of the City’s site plan approval process.

* Heritage Ottawa's Legal Counsel and Consultants:
Michael Polowin, Partner, Gowling WLG LLP
Jacob Polowin, Gowling WLG LLP
Marc Denhez, Barrister & Solicitor
Lloyd Phillips, Lloyd Phillips & Associates Ltd.
Julia Gersovitz, Architecture EVOQ Inc.
Hagit Hadayah, Architectural Historian

** Statements by Expert Consultants:

Phyllis Lambert, CC, GOQ, CAL, FRAIC
Founding Director Emeritus, Canadian Centre for Architecture

Christina Cameron, PhD (Architecture History), CM, FRSC
Professor Emeritus, Canada Research Chair on Built Heritage (2005-2019)

Lyette Fortin, B.Arch, D.ICCROM, Hon.OAA
Adjunct Professor, Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism, Carleton University
Instructor of Architectural Conservation: Philosophy, Ethics and Practice

Barry Padolsky, B.Arch, MSc (Urban Design), OAA, MRAIC, CAHP RCA
Founder and President of Barry Padolsky Associates Inc Architects (1969-2020) and current Member of the City of Ottawa Built Heritage Sub-Committee