Something old, something new: Designing the Ottawa Public Library and Library and Archives Canada joint facility
If you have ever travelled to downtown Ottawa, there is a good chance you made your way to Parliament Hill and have taken in the beautiful, gothic-styled architecture that dominates the landscape, like The Fairmont Château Laurier (built in 1912) or the Federal Parliament Buildings, which house the Parliament of Canada (built in 1866).
While these buildings are certainly important landmarks in Canada’s capital, another iconic building is about to begin construction that will offer an equal amount of personality to the city’s landscape without the traditional gothic design: the new Ottawa Public Library and Library and Archives Canada (OPL–LAC) joint facility.
“A real goal on the part of the client group was to take a generational step forward that was not a gothic building,” says Gary McCluskie, principal architect at Diamond Schmitt, the architecture firm designing the facility in a joint venture with KWC Architects. “It’s an aesthetic much more representative of the landscape and escarpment.”
The $196-million joint facility will offer a fresh, unique design with special consideration made to the city’s surrounding natural landscape, including the Ottawa River. One of the most unique aspects to this project was the level of public consultation performed before and during the design stage. According to McCluskie, this project had more substantive public consultation for the design of a federal building than any other before it.
“It was very impactful,” he says, adding that the public consultation process began during site selection, a couple of years before Diamond Schmitt got involved with the design. “From the outset, it was outlined that we were going to do at least four points of contact over the course of the schematic design stage. This is the most consultative process we’ve ever participated in.”
Although originally unsure of how this level of consultation would play out for completing the design stage, McCluskie says stakeholders for the OPL-LAC joint facility project came fully prepared with their visions.
“They entered the process knowing what they wanted to do. We were able to convey that to the public groups. It was very much a consensus building process,” he says. Diamond Schmitt offered online presentations in concurrence with the public consultations to gather as much feedback as possible. “The frequency and depth of consultation was significant for us. A real innovation of this consultation process was being able to work with the different people at the table, really rolling up your sleeves and being able to work together on an idea. It was a much more engaged way of gathering feedback.”