Diamond Schmitt Architects and KWC Architects, Architects in Joint Venture
Phil R. White - Dominion Sculptor of Canada
PSPC Public Services and Procurement Canada
MCM 2001 - Bronze Fabrication
BermanGlass/Forms and Surfaces - Cast Glass Fabrication
Beaubois - Wood Fabrication
Carelton CIMS Lab
The former Union Station (1912) in Ottawa is an important cultural and historic landmark. With its commanding Beaux-Arts structure and finely detailed interior, it is now positioned at the juncture of historic reflection and future potential through its transformation into the interim home for the Senate of Canada.
The principal challenges of this high-profile project were to insert a unique program into the heritage-designated building and to restore original character-defining elements while undertaking a full modernization of building systems. The introduction of the Senate Chamber and major committee rooms redefine monumental spaces while offices and meeting rooms complete program requirements.
The project provided a remarkable opportunity to investigate and engage in a range of design innovations and introduce a new and complementary language of materials and symbolic representations to convey contemporary Canadian identity. The intent was not only to revitalize this iconic Ottawa landmark but also to modernize the image of the Senate itself.
The artwork is integral to the architectural narrative of passage along the restored processional route, now open to the public for the first time in 50 years. As one approaches the Senate Chamber in the former station concourse, the level of detailing increases, signifying the importance of the parliamentary process of government. The maple leaf, Canada’s symbol, is interpreted in various media, as are landscapes and other motifs. Explorations in wood, bronze, glass and stone contemporize iconic Canadian imagery.
To create the many custom finishes, a dialogue between craft and contemporary production techniques emerged throughout the design. A pendulum-like process took shape between the traditional skills of hand-carving to fabrication processes involving 3D scanning together with 5-axis CNC machining or digital punch machine, back to delicate handwork finishing, and returned to detailed digital refinement to ensure that optical and acoustic requirements were met.
The Dominion Sculptor of Canada, Phil White, hand carved in wood the leaf patterns of ten native species of maple trees. High-resolution 3D scans were made of each leaf then assembled as 3D digital elevations for CNC machining for the carved walnut doors to the Senate Chamber and three committee rooms.
The maple leaves are used again in a kiln-fired decorative cast glass wall that separates the chamber from the antechamber. Working with the artist Joel Berman, the 3D information of the maple leaf patterns was remade using ceramic molds which were in turn hand-carved by another artist, Daniel Masse, based on the Dominion Sculptor’s original carvings.
Monumental perforated bronze panels act as façades for the committee rooms. They feature historical photographic imagery of Canadian landscapes upscaled and transposed into a halftone pattern. The fabricator, Millworks Custom Manufacturing, calibrated the combination of dot size and spacing that would hold up most clearly at a distance. The pitch of the halftone addressed the moiré that would have rendered the bronze background as nauseating movement when captured by high-definition broadcast cameras. Rolling, punching, stamping and surface finishing introduced additional complexities to retaining the clarity and quality of the finished images.
Contemporary architecture typically relies on the techniques of mass production for reasons of cost, reliability, and schedule. Lost in this approach is an ability to employ distinct craft in the service of a specific objective and to engage in the richness of architectural expression through the art of making.
One innovation introduced here had artists, artisans and fabricators working within the production chain, adapting new technologies to execute traditional tasks like woodcarving in both unique and repeatable or individually modified patterns.
The result was a craft-based approach that leveraged technologies to achieve economies of scale and repetition in its execution.
Senate of Canada Building
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