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Architecture of Ottawa

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Downtown Ottawa showcasing various design styles

The Gothic Revival Parliament Buildings have heavily influenced the design of other key
buildings of the federal government.

A cluster of older buildings on Elgin Street.

The architecture of Ottawa is most marked by the city's role as the national capital of Canada.
This gives the city a number of monumental structures designed to represent the federal
government and the nation. It also means that as a city dominated by government bureaucrats,
much of its architecture tends to be formalistic and functional. However, the city is also marked
by Romantic and Picturesque styles of architecture such as the Parliament Building's gothic

revival architecture.
While the political capital, Ottawa has always been heavily influenced from the larger cities of
Toronto and Montreal. This has held true in architecture, and over its history Ottawa has
followed the prevailing architectural trends popular in Canada and North America. The city is
thus a mix of different styles, varying considerably based on what era a building or
neighbourhood was constructed in. While founded in the early nineteenth century, few buildings
survive from that era and the vast majority of the city's structures date from the twentieth century.
Much of the downtown was also greatly transformed in the 1960s and 1970s, and the swath of
suburbs that surround the city also date from this period.
The general stereotype of Ottawa architecture is that it is staid and unambitious. Urban design
consultant Trevor Boddy said that "with the relative extremes of poverty and wealth removed
here, along with the vital concentrations of immigrant cultures which denote most Canadian
cities, Ottawa seemed to me to represent only the hollow norm, the vacant centre.".[1] Ottawa
Citizen architecture critic Rhys Phillips has echoed these concerns, saying that Ottawa "looks like
some tired little Prairie town on its last legs."[2]



Urban planning[edit]

Unlike several other national capitals, such as Paris and Washington, D.C., Ottawa was never
built to a master plan. However, several commissions have played a role in determining the shape
of the city. Colonel By envisioned building several grand boulevards but the difficulties of
expropriation and demolition prevented this from happening.[3] In the late 1880s, Prime Minister
Sir Wilfrid Laurier developed a 50-year vision of the city's future development and created the
Ottawa Improvement Commission (OIC).[4] The early years of the OIC under the direction of
Montreal-born architect Frederick Todd saw the removal of industry along the canal, the
definition of Patterson Creek and the transfer of Rockcliffe Park to the federal government.[5] In
1913, Sir Robert Borden appointed the Sir Henry Holt Commission which was the first to state
the need for a national capital region and also the removal of railway lines from the downtown
Twenty years later, the Federal District Commission and Prime Minister Mackenzie King urged
the federal government to acquire land, which eventually led to the creation of Confederation
Square. In 1939, King invited Jacques Grber to create a master plan for the city. This plan
proposed new parkways along the Ottawa and Rideau Rivers, included the idea for the Greenbelt,
and urged the need for a ceremonial route to Parliament but the plan was not approved until 1951
by the government of Louis St. Laurent.[7] Grber's Plan has mostly been implemented and still
affects the city today.
In 1958, the National Capital Commission (NCC) replaced the Federal District Commission. [8]
As a federal agency, the NCC worked along with the many individual municipal governments
(before amalgamation in 2000) on the Ontario and Quebec sides in planning and designing the
city. It acquired the lands for the Greenbelt and in the 1960s it removed the railway tracks from

downtown, making rail travel less accessible, but also opening the Rideau Canal as a scenic
tourist destination. The NCC continues to have a major role in planning and does have a long
range plan for how to showcase the region as a national capital, but has limited legitimacy as an
unelected bureaucracy.

The Greenbelt limits development in a significant portion of the city

The streets of central Ottawa follow a grid pattern, but it is frequently disrupted by the Rideau
River and Rideau Canal, ensuring that few streets in most of the older neighbourhoods are very
long. Outside of the core the roads follow the modern standard of large avenues forming grid,
interspersed with a network of crescents and cul-de-sacs creating low traffic suburban
neighbourhoods. The Queensway, a major highway crosses almost all of the city from east to
west, going just south of downtown. It was built in the 1960s mostly over former railway tracks,
and thus did not entail the same urban destruction as expressways in other cities. There are five
road, and one rail, bridges crossing over the Ottawa River, four of which are in the downtown
area, ensuring that much of the interprovincial traffic, including many large trucks, pass through
the centre of town.
Several planning decisions have played an important role in the development of Ottawa and its
architecture. One long standing rule that had a great effect on the downtown core, was a
prohibition on buildings being taller than the 92 meter tall Peace Tower. It was instituted to
prevent the Parliament Buildings from being dwarfed by more modern structures. While today
there are a number of taller buildings, Ottawa's central business district still does not have the
towering buildings found in most other North American cities, instead having a considerable
number of mid-sized towers.
Ottawa is home to a large Greenbelt circling the entire urban core. It was created as an attempt to
limit sprawl and encourage density, with mixed success. The Greenbelt has remained largely
intact, but Ottawa's newest suburbs such as Kanata, Barrhaven, and Orleans have jumped over
the belt. The Greenbelt is increasingly becoming a wide avenue of green between two developed
areas. Prior to amalgamation in 2000 the region was divided into several communities each with
its own planning guidelines and the suburbs have distinct characters. Kanata is especially notable
as developer Bill Teron's attempt to create a modern suburb embracing garden city principles.

Design Review Panel[edit]

The Downtown Ottawa Urban Design Review Panel is a commission set up by the City of

Ottawa to guide and raise architectural design standards within the downtown core.[9] It was
formed in 2005 and consists of seven architects and 3 landscape architects who review
development proposals, suggest changes, and make approval recommendations. The panel is part
of the city's official plan to improve the overall design standards through incentives such as
awards and design competitions. But it received criticism for being ineffective. In December
2009, all seven architects on the panel resigned in protest to Ottawa City Council, stating "that
they are wasting their time in a largely fruitless effort to improve architecture" and that "design
doesn't matter to this pariticular council".[10]
The panel was restructured on October 6, 2010. Ottawas Urban Design Review Panel is now a
permanent advisory panel made up of volunteer design professionals, that perform a formal
design review process and provide design recommendations for capital and private sector
development projects that fall within the citys Design Priority Areas (no longer Downtown
only). Its purpose is to achieve architectural and urban design excellence.[11]

Institutional architecture[edit]

Federal government[edit]

The Connaught Building built in 1916 is now head office of the Canadian Revenue Agency
The presence of the federal government has shaped every facet of the city of Ottawa, and its
architecture has been dramatically affected for both good and ill. Ottawa exists as a major city
almost solely because it was selected to be the capital of the new nation of Canada, and the
federal government remains the dominant employer in the city. Many of Ottawa's most acclaimed
structures are the result of federal government projects, but the affinity for cheapness and
blandness of recent government building has also played a central role in Ottawa's perceived
architectural dullness.
In the years after Confederation the federal government constructed a series of monumental
structures in Ottawa. The most important of these buildings was the Parliament of Canada,
unquestionably Ottawa's most famous building and one also acclaimed by architectural critics.
The parliamentary complex consists of a series of Neo-Gothic structures. They are one of the
world's most prominent examples of Victorian High Gothic, with no attempts to ape
medievalism, but rather a recombination of Gothic forms into a wholly original style of building.
Early civil service buildings were built in similarly high style with the Second Empire Style
Langevin Block and Baronial Connaught Building being two prominent examples.

The R. H. Coats Building, located in Tunney's Pasture in the western part of the city. Built in
1976, it epitomizes the stark modernist style embraced by the federal government during that era.
Subsequent decades saw the federal government embrace modernism. The attitude towards
government buildings also changed. In earlier eras all government buildings were considered to
be important symbols of the country, and designed to be both monumental and functional.
However, by the 1960s efficiency and cost effectiveness was the main goal of government
projects. The many government structures built during this era thus tend to be models of
International Style minimalism, unornamented, with no attempt at distinctiveness. Moreover, in
an era of political discontent over high taxes it was even a priority that the buildings not be
cheap, but also look cheap so that visitors from the regions wouldn't feel that the federal
government was wasting their money in Ottawa.[12] In this era the federal government decided to
erect many of its new buildings outside of the downtown core. Partially for political reasons, the
government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau opted to build a series of massive federal
government office towers on the Quebec side of the border, most notably the Place du Portage
and Terrasses de la Chaudire. In the western part of Ottawa a cluster of government buildings
were built at Tunney's Pasture. The downtown core did see a great deal of building during this
era, especially after the city eased its 150 foot height restriction on office towers. Examples
include the Department of National Defence Headquarters by the canal and the Place de Ville
complex, built by private developer Robert Campeau but largely housing government
Today the federal government has stuck with modernist simplicity for its functional buildings,
but has turned again to monumental architecture for projects of national significance. Most
notable are the three museums that have been built in the national capital over the last three
decades. The new homes of the Canadian Museum of Civilization , National Gallery of Canada,
and the Canadian War Museum are unique examples of postmodern architecture. All cost vast
amounts of money, but they have also met with international acclaim. They also have allowed the
capital to become a showcase for buildings by three of Canada's most prominent architects:
Moshe Safdie, Douglas Cardinal, and Raymond Moriyama.


The Desmarais Building at the University of Ottawa

Ottawa's three universities, Carleton University, Saint Paul University and the University of
Ottawa, together embrace a wide variety of architectural styles.
The University of Ottawa was founded in the nineteenth century, reflected architecturally by the
University's buildings of that era, including 100 Laurier, formerly the 'Juniorat du Sacre-Coeur', a
college of the University once ran by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. It currently houses the
university's Department of Visual Arts and the University Gallery. Also notable is Tabaret Hall
(erected 1905), a neoclassical building designed by A. Von Herbulis, which is Ottawa landmark
and also inspired the University's logo. The architecture of the U of O is also noted for its
embrace of brutalism , including Morisset Hall, a massive poured concrete building that houses
the central libraries of the University. The SITE Building completed in 1997, a highly
postmodern structure that has attracted much acclaim, breaking with the University's late 20th
century trend of modernist architecture. The newest project, the Desmairais building at the
prominent intersection of Laurier and Nicholas, houses the Telfer School of Management and the
Faculty of Social Sciences.
Saint Paul University, an ecumenical Pontifical Catholic University which is loosely federated
with the University of Ottawa, consists primarily of two buildings: Guigues Hall and
Laframboise Hall. Both buildings have been constructed in the modern style, and are
accompanied by a considerable amount of landscaping, as the Saint Paul campus is located on a
prime spot along the Rideau River. The most notable building affiliated with Saint Paul
University is the nearby Maison Deschatelets, a residence for religious scholars owned by the
Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

Dunton Tower at Carleton University.

Carleton University, founded in 1942, is located south of downtown on a verdant campus
stretched between the Rideau Canal and Rideau River. It is itself home to one of Canada's
premier schools of architecture. The design of Carleton's campus and buildings deliberately
rejected monumentalism, focusing instead on the academic quadrangle, aiming to present an
egalitarian rather than elite sensibility.[13] The University's current building projects include a new
River Building adjacent to the Rideau River, which will be completed by 2011. The tallest
academic building in Ottawa is Carleton's Dunton Tower; completed in 1971, the international
style building sits along one side of the quadrangle and is Carleton's most visible architectural


Ottawa's role as the nation's capital also means that it is home to over a hundred foreign
missions. These embassies have an important role in the city's architecture. Many embassies and
ambassadorial residences are located in notable heritage structures. Many of the old mansions
built by lumber barons or early politicians now house embassies, and the foreign missions help
keep many of these buildings in good condition. This is especially important in older parts of the
city such as Sandy Hill and Rockcliffe Park. Examples include the Algerian Embassy in
Fleck/Paterson House, the British high commissioner residence at Earnscliffe, and the High
Commission of Brunei in Stadacona Hall. Those nations that choose to build a new structure to
hold the embassy often incorporate local styles and motifs into their buildings, bringing added
diversity to Ottawa's architecture. The new Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti incorporate distinctly
Middle Eastern design elements, while the American embassy is a distinctly Federal style

Domestic architecture[edit]

A street in Old Ottawa South, a streetcar suburb built up in the early twentieth century.
Ottawa's domestic architecture is dominated by single family homes. There are also smaller
numbers of semi-detached, rowhouses, and apartment buildings. Most domestic buildings are
clad in brick, with small numbers covered in wood or stone.
Ottawa has several older neighbourhoods clustered around the downtown core, including the
Glebe, Sandy Hill, New Edinburgh, Centretown, Lower Town and Old Ottawa South. These
areas were mainly built up in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The houses in
these areas tend to be in Victorian or Queen Anne style, but rarely have any conspicuous
ornamentation. These are usually two or three storey single homes. Recent infills in these
neighbourhoods have often taken the form of townhouses. Red brick, sometimes painted other
colours, is the dominant surface material. Most houses have sizable lots, with a driveway running
to a shed, or a small lane way running behind the buildings. In the 1920s and 1930s new styles
were imported, and many houses from this era take inspiration from the Arts and crafts and
Prairie styles.

Suburban streetscape typical of Barrhaven, Kanata, Orlans, and others.

Like most of North American, the suburbs built in the years after the Second World War were
dominated by the ranch house. Areas like Alta Vista and the older parts of Nepean are dominated
by these quickly built single storey houses with a garage attached and little overt styling. More
recent suburbs have moved to larger homes, generally with two or more stories and with more

ornamentation, such as gables, dormer windows, and balconies. This neo-eclectic style dominates
that rapidly growing areas outside the Greenbelt, such as Kanata and Barrhaven.
Beginning in the 1960s a collection of large apartment buildings were erected in Ottawa. The
first being the Juliana on Bronson St, built in 1962.[14] During the years after the 1960s and 1970s
Ottawa embraced a decentralized strategy, and while some of these buildings are located in the
core, most are spread out across different parts of the city. Clusters of buildings were placed in
former industrial areas such as Lees Avenue and Hurdman. Others were erected in the suburbs
that were being built in this era such as Britannia in the west and Heron Gate in the south. The
towers from this era share an almost universal design, brick or concrete facades unadorned
except for the large numbers of balconies given to each suite. With the general recession in the
Canadian real estate market of the 1980s and early 1990s most such developments halted. In the
early years of the 21st century residential high-rises have returned, mostly in the form of
condominiums. Ottawa has not seen as extensive a boom in condo construction as Toronto or
Vancouver, but several prominent structures have been built including the Minto Metropole and
a number of towers in the Byward Market area.
The Briarcliffe section of the Rothwell Heights was briefly a showcase for modernist domestic
architecture in the early sixties, thanks to the influence of architects Walter Schreier, Brian
Barkham, James W. Strutt, Paul Schoeler and Matt Stankiewicz, as well as the area's proximity
to the National Research Council, a magnet for international talent.[15]
New residential developments in Ottawa include nationally significant structures featuring a
modern sensitivity toward energy efficiency and sustainability. The first certified Passivehaus
building designed and built in Canada for residential use was developed by Chris Straka of Vert
Design Incorporated in 2010.

The duplex, constructed in New Edinburgh adjacent to

the Rideau River, demonstrates the integration of modern sustainable architecture into one of the
city's oldest neighbourhoods.

Commercial and industrial architecture[edit]

The Rideau Centre at Christmas

While the economy is dominated by the federal government, and service industries that support
government workers, Ottawa has had several other important industries. Before becoming the
capital, Bytown was a centre of the logging industry. The lumber industry remained prominent in
Ottawa until the early twentieth century. The lasting legacy in Ottawa are the mansions and
buildings constructed by the lumber barons who made up much of the economic elite of early
Ottawa. Most notable was John Rudolphus Booth, who commissioned several prominent
structures from architect John W.H. Watts. While the lumber and pulp mills disappeared from
Ottawa in the early twentieth century, Hull across the river remained an important industrial
centre and its waterfront was largely industrialized. Most of those factories have now
disappeared, but a few remain. Including the E. B. Eddy Company plant directly across from the
Parliament Buildings. Ottawa itself does today have some industrial areas, mostly clustered
around the rail lines in the Cyrville and Tanglewood areas south of the core. There is virtually no
heavy industry, and most of the industrial buildings are warehouses serving as transshipment
points for goods made elsewhere.
In recent years it has been the hi tech sector that has risen to prominence in Ottawa. Especially
during the boom years of the 1990s Ottawa was often touted as "Silicon Valley North", home to
such firms as Nortel, Corel, JDS Uniphase, and Cognos. This technology sector is almost wholly
based in the western part of the city, especially around Kanata. Both Nortel and JDS Uniphase
opted to build large compounds on the fringe of the city, while Corel has a series of towers by the
Queensway. While the downturn severely hurt this industry, it has recovered in recent years with
many smaller firms occupying office space in the west end.

Paul Schoeler's Public Service Alliance of Canada Building.

Surviving commercial buildings from early Ottawa can be seen in some parts of downtown, most
notably the heritage area along Sussex Drive and the Sparks Street pedestrian mall. These tend to
be low stone structures densely clustered together. The vast majority of Ottawa's commercial
buildings are similar to those that would be found anywhere in North America. Downtown

Ottawa has several commercial streets, the most important being Bank Street the lower levels of
many office towers also contain shopping areas. One distinctive area is the Byward Market,
home to dozens of small shops and restaurants. The city has several shopping centres, the most
central and prominent being the Rideau Centre. The older suburbs each have central shopping
malls, such as Billings Bridge Plaza, Bayshore Shopping Centre, Carlingwood Mall. In recent
years the newest suburbs have been home to large collections of big-box stores rather than
traditional malls, with sprawling such complexes in Kanata, Barrhaven, and South Keys.