An open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper:
Dear Prime Minister Harper,
On Thursday Aug. 21, 2014, your government unveiled the six designs being considered for the Memorial to the Victims of Communism to be located adjacent to Canada’s Supreme Court building in Ottawa.
At a recent open house held at the National Capital Commission, the public was invited to meet the six design teams and admire the drawings and models submitted as part of a national design competition. The six competing teams are now anxiously awaiting the selection of a winner by a jury of eminent Canadians. In early September 2014, the winning design for the $4 million to $6 million taxpayer funded memorial is expected to announced by one of your ministers. I am certain that you look forward to participating in the unveiling scheduled for the late summer of 2015.
As we await the jury’s recommendation, we also await your explanation of why the chosen site, approximately 5,000 square metres in area, was stolen from its intended use as the location for a future Federal Court building or other national institution. As you may or may not know, there is an approved Long term Vision and Plan (LTVP) for the Parliamentary Precinct and Judicial Precinct. This plan, prepared by Public Works Canada and endorsed by the NCC, sets out an exemplary and inspiring vision for the nation’s “Capital Plateau” — the parliamentary and judicial “acropolis” overlooking the Ottawa River.
The LTVP evolved through decades of thought by teams of Canada’s finest architects, urban designers and landscape architects flowing from the seminal 1950 plan by the eminent urban planner Jacques Greber. The key mission of the Parliamentary and Judicial Precinct Plan is to manage change, conserve and enhance the primacy of the “Parliamentary Triad” and the “Judicial Triad” through the placement of exceptionally designed architectural pavilions that frame the Parliamentary lawn and the Judicial lawn facing Wellington Street (Confederation Boulevard).
As you can guess, since it is your own place of employment, the “Parliamentary Triad” consists of the wonderful neo-gothic East, West and Centre blocks.
The “Judicial Triad” is architecturally incomplete, consisting of only two monumental buildings, the chateau-style Justice Building to the east, designed by Burritt and Horwood Architects, and the Supreme Court building to the north, designed by architect Ernest Cormier.
A third architectural pavilion, needed to complete the “Judicial Triad” and give form to the Judicial Lawn, is still missing in action. The Judicial Precinct needs a significant piece of architecture, not a low profile landscaped memorial on the west side of the Judicial Lawn to achieve the urban design vision for the Parliamentary and Judicial Precincts.
The site is also a valuable piece of real estate. If there is no need for the already designed Federal Court Building (originally named the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Judicial Building), then an alternate national institution such as an expansion of the Department of Justice or national museum should occupy the site.
It is evident that many Canadians passionately want to pay tribute to the victims of the former (and some surviving) communist regimes. Similar sentiments have been expressed in other countries.
On June 12, 2007, George W. Bush unveiled a victims of communism memorial in Washington. This three-metre high bronze statue is a replica of the “goddess of democracy” erected by Chinese students in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Although passionate about the need for this memorial, the U.S. government wisely located it at a modest street corner at the intersection of Jersey Avenue and G Street. They clearly understood that this type of controversial memorial should not occupy a place meant for more significant expressions of American values.
Our Capital’s Parliamentary and Judicial Precinct is one of the most significant sites in Canada. The Canadian government’s Long Term Vision and Plan described the site as the “seat of our country’s parliamentary system and focal point for national celebrations and expressions of democracy.” Our national “acropolis” deserves to be completed and embellished as proposed in our shared, home-grown vision.
We should follow the US example and find an alternative, more appropriate, location for the memorial.
Barry Padolsky is the owner of Barry Padolsky Associates Inc. Achitects, an Ottawa based architectural, urban design and heritage consulting practice founded in 1969.