The Chateau Laurier mess shows it’s time for Canada to think harder about architecture

The design led by architectsAlliance has evolved dramatically under this scrutiny; it’s gone through five iterations, as the architects worked to respond to the direction of various professionals
The Chateau Laurier
The Chateau Laurier proposal by architectsAlliance
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What is good architecture? How should we build our cities, and adapt what we’ve already built as we look to the future?
These are big questions. And after the Chateau Laurier debate it seems clear that Ottawa, as a city, and Canada, have no idea how to answer them.

That’s my main lesson from the long, chaotic debate over an addition to the famed Ottawa hotel, an issue that was resolved on Thursday by a city council vote. The addition is most likely going ahead.

But the discussion was remarkably muddled. It’s been roughly three years since Larco Investments brought forward a design by architectsAlliance and ERA Architects for a new wing on the hotel. In all that time, everybody has had their say about the architecture: Ottawa’s city council, its Urban Design Review Panel and, in various forums, Ottawans.

The design led by architectsAlliance has evolved dramatically under this scrutiny; it’s gone through five iterations, as the architects worked to respond to the direction of various professionals.

The final result is good. It’s not radical, and it’s not magnificent; few creative works are magnificent when they’ve been designed by committee. Peter Clewes and his team at architectsAlliance have delivered a long, low, flat-roofed building that will link the hotel to Major’s Hill Park, facing that park with a facade of Indiana limestone (like the Chateau), copper (like the Chateau) and dark glass. It is respectful, “subordinate,” as planning guidelines required it to be.

And yet Ottawa is in an uproar. Why?

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