The city’s best designs are as eye-catching as they are enlightening, offering clear expressions of Canadian history, identity and style
Architect Donald Schmitt feels a unique responsibility whenever he embarks on a project in Ottawa. “Ottawa has always seemed like the quintessential version of that mythic wild Canadian landscape,” he says, “because the river runs right through the middle of town.”
Schmitt, a principal at Toronto firm Diamond Schmitt Architects (DSA), also notes that “the standard is very high” since Ottawa’s landmarks may represent a visiting diplomat’s only exposure to Canadian design.
Clearly, the added pressure on architecture firms like DSA has yielded positive results. With its recent renovations to both the National Arts Centre and the Senate of Canada Building, DSA completed two finely crafted contributions to the city’s already rich assortment of stately government facilities and avant-garde cultural institutions. Which is to say, it is not just diplomats who will be impressed by the buildings in Ottawa – anyone with an interest in great design will find much to admire.
The city serves as a primer on Canada’s shifting architectural tastes, with the Gothic revival styling of Parliament Hill giving way to concrete-heavy brutalism and, finally, to contemporary glass structures.
Kristen Gagnon, the architecture critic and editor for Toronto-based Spacing magazine, points out that despite contrasting styles, Ottawa’s key sites still convey a consistent character. “It’s in the details and materials,” she says. “You see real attention paid to honouring the legacy of the city’s heritage fabric, whether it’s by incorporating limestone, or tower elements that reference the Peace Tower.”
These six buildings are proof positive that when it comes to architecture, Ottawa strikes the right balance between honouring the past and pushing the boundaries of design.