Take 5: Latest Château Laurier addition design already under fire

The view of the latest Château Laurier design from the Rideau Canal. (Provided by Larco Investments.)

Thursday, May 23, 2019

CBC NEWS, By Joanne Chianello

The fifth — and possibly final — version of the controversial addition to Ottawa's iconic Château Laurier is now public, and while it's smaller in scale than what was originally proposed almost three years ago, it's unlikely to find many fans among those who've already criticized the modern design.

Among the naysayers is the local councillor, who wants his colleagues to vote down the changes, despite the fact that the city's planning staff is expected to recommend the redesign in a report to be released later today.

"As the Château Laurier is Ottawa's most iconic building within the Parliamentary Precinct, any modern addition, despite all of the height, connectivity and material changes, still does not fit the prominence for this location," said Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury in a statement released Thursday afternoon.

"Therefore, I am recommending that committee and council reject this proposal."

5th kick at the can

Declared a national historic site in 1980, the hotel is owned by Larco Investments, whose proposed expansion design back in September 2016 incited fury among heritage experts and others, including Mayor Jim Watson.

Larco and its architect, Toronto-based Peter Clewes, have been revamping the design ever since. The second version, unveiled in November 2016, also got a loud thumbs-down for basically being a slightly smaller version of the original design.

The third version, revealed early last year, was quite different, and included an eight-storey pavilion with 171 new guest suites. The new addition, which is to replace a crumbling five-storey parking garage that was demolished last year, was to use materials such as white steel and glass.

Two more sets of tweaks were demanded by the the city's built heritage subcommittee, the urban design review panel and council. Among the changes requested:

  • Use more Indiana limestone and copper.
  • Break up the north face of the addition so the wall facing Major's Hill Park isn't so flat.
  • Change the arrangement of doors and windows, design details and geometric proportions of the addition so that they better match the original building.

Last June, council took the unusual step of approving the addition, while at the same time demanding changes to it.

Do-over 'disappointing,' Heritage Ottawa says

Heritage Ottawa has been a vocal critic of all the iterations of the Château Laurier design proposals, and this time is no different. "Disappointing" is how the group's David Flemming characterized the latest version.

He said the tweaks are merely minor improvements to a concept he believes is flawed.

"It's really the form we're concerned about," said Flemming, the co-chair of the group's advocacy committee. "Compatibility has to be the guiding principle."

Coun. Fleury acknowledged that the hotel owner responded to many of the city's criticisms and worked to improve the design, including the fact that the company reduced the proposed height from 12 to seven storeys.

Still, Fleury said the "vertical nature of the materials and lines overshadow the addition." The breaks in the façade of the addition work well when viewed from Major's Hill Park, he said, but not when viewed from the east and north of the building, views that the councillor believes are "overly dominant."

While the addition would be a handsome, stand-alone building in another part of the city, Fleury said "this contemporary addition to the historic and iconic Château Laurier doesn't fit with this landmark."

The city did not ask that the addition be designed to match the original design of the hotel, which is in keeping with modern architectural principles that eschew copycat designs of historic buildings.

The plan is set to be discussed by the built-heritage subcommittee on June 3 and voted on by planning committee on June 13. Full council must also approve the latest designs.

 

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With files from Julie Delaney