Client: PSPC Public Services and Procurement Canada
Location: Ottawa, ON, Canada
Completion date: 2019
Diamond Schmitt Architects & KWC Architects, Architects in Joint Venture
Cast Glass Fabrication
BermanGlass/Forms and Surfaces
Dominion Sculptor of Canada
Phil R. White
Carelton CIMS Lab
PSPC Public Services and Procurement Canada
The transformation of Ottawa’s former Union Station showcases Canadian craftsmanship while delivering a parliamentary building. Completed in 2019, as the interim home for the Senate of Canada, it offers historical reflection and future potential. Decades of ad hoc changes had left the finely detailed interior spaces in need of intricate restorations. The architectural transformation restored the original, heritage-designated elements, fully upgrading the building systems. But more importantly, the new insertions add a contemporary layer, impressed with visual narratives that celebrate the Canadian identity.
Working collaboratively with Canadian artists and artisans, a dialogue between traditional craft and leading-edge fabrication informs the material selection and the design of myriad details. One of these interventions includes a series of two new pavilions in the General Waiting Room, containing Committee Rooms. Enclosed in perforated bronze panels, they stand apart from the heritage Beaux-Art elements, revealing imagery of iconic Canadian landscapes. These details, along with other similar interventions, express the country’s strong relationship with nature—rooted in land-based traditions. Open to the public for the first time in 50 years; the result instills national pride.
An architectural transformation, the goal was not only to restore the lost or damaged heritage elements but also to incorporate contemporary Canadian artwork in the very fabric of the interventions (not as independent elements in the spaces). Furthermore, the interim Senate of Canada Building offered a rare opportunity to represent this democratic, parliamentary institution to a new generation of Canadians. These ambitions led to a collaborative process with sculptors, artisans, and fabricators. Together, we worked to revitalize this iconic Ottawa landmark—the city’s historic Union Station—and modernize the Senate's image by introducing Canadian craft and identity. The additional layer included materials and symbolic motifs, in various media, connecting the parliamentary process to the country's growing narratives and picturesque scenery.
Innovative explorations in wood, bronze, glass, and stone introduced iconic Canadian imagery, symbols, and motifs as part of the Senate's interim home. This additional layer of elaboration stemmed from a dialogue between craft and leading-edge fabrication, in collaboration with the Dominion Sculptor of Canada, Canadian glass artists, Carleton University's CIMS lab, and other custom fabricators. A pendulum-like process took place between traditional skillsets and emerging digital technologies: hand-carving, 3D scanning, 5-axis CNC machining, delicate handwork finishing, and returning to detailed digital fabrication refinement.
For instance, the leaf patterns of ten native maple trees have been sketched, hand-carved, scanned, composed, and then CNC carved on the wooden doors. The maple leaves repeat in a kiln-fired decorative cast glass wall for which a mold was formed using 3D prints of the original hand carvings. The Senate Chamber also features symbolic elements: a waving national flag carved in wood, hand-carved crests for each province and territory, and wooden Pine-cone Fibonacci phyllotaxy patterns. Moreover, enclosing the new Committee Rooms, perforated bronze panels depict imagery of Canadian landscape. Pure tonal variations were extracted, establishing a topography.
Contemporary architecture typically relies on mass production techniques for cost, reliability, and schedule. Lost in this approach is an ability to employ artistic craft in the service of storytelling. Re-investing in the significance of architectural expression, the design interventions leverage the art and craft of making. The design transformation engages artists, artisans, and fabricators, adopting new technologies to execute traditional tasks like woodcarving through innovative methods. The result establishes a craft-based, tech-savvy approach, creating meaningful and enduring finishes that would mark the current era for posterity.