Architect: BBB Architects /// Completion: 2011
By Kelly Wojnarski…
The Ottawa Convention Centre – promoted as “Canada’s meeting place” – sits across the Rideau Canal from the National Arts Centre, and occupies the same downtown block as Rideau Centre. Opened in April 2011, the bulbous glass building was designed by BBB Architects to replace an existing facility. The four story building with 192,000 square feet of useable space was constructed to reduce energy and water consumption, and achieved LEED® Gold certification earlier this year. A premier destination for events, the OCC seeks to generate revenue streams by attracting visitors from around the world. In spite of its iconic presence, the Convention Centre doesn’t overtake its surroundings, but rather keeps occupants in tune with the rhythms of the city.
In a city largely dominated by historical architecture, it’s particularly exciting to encounter a cutting edge, world-class project such as the OCC, which I set out to investigate on a quiet, rainy Saturday morning.
Approaching the sweeping glass façade from the Laurier Street Bridge, the dominant random paving pattern changes to a stone tile, like a welcome mat laid out by a pair of excited newlyweds (1). Double glass doors emblazoned with the convention centre’s logo lead into the Colonel By Foyer (2). A grand, two-story space atypical of convention centres, the foyer features a bizarre white egg covered in shiny maple leaves hanging from the ceiling (3). Looking ahead, I’m immediately confronted by a pair of escalators leading to the upper level, as well as a ramp tucked off to the side. With one side composed of glossy orange panels, the Confederation Ramp seems wide and inviting (4). Choosing this method of ascent, I’m rewarded with panoramic views of the street through the glass (5). Though long, the ramp offers a leisurely, universally accessible ascent.
Upon reaching the second story, I enter another vast room – the Rideau Canal Atrium. Large and open, despite being cordoned off, this space is full of natural light from the triangular windows of the façade, which gleam with the pulse of traffic in the street below (6). Linear lighting fixtures run across the ceiling, and automatically dim according to the ambient light in this space – an energy-conserving feature explained by a nearby sign. A long, thin escalator pierces through the third floor, like the ramp of an alien space ship promising escape to worlds unknown. Although this area was blocked to casual visitors, the OCC website lauds the impressive vistas from the Parliament Foyer and the Trillium Ballroom on the 3rd and 4th floors, respectively.
Walking deeper into the building, I encounter a somber hallway with dark wood paneling and a series of pot lights resembling an airport runway at night (7). Although generously proportioned, the corridor is a space of transition. Small, secluded seating nodes located at both ends of this floor offer brief respite with pockets of natural light. Adjacent to the hallway are the meeting rooms, typical convention centre fare.
Having explored the extents of the upper story, I return below on the escalator. Attracted by the dark wood wall cladding the elevator core, I encounter an assortment of signs. Here, I discover that the wooden slats are actually reclaimed lumber collected from the bottom of the Ottawa River – a union of history and sustainability through the reuse of local materials (8). Here, the facility’s LEED® Gold plaque hangs proudly.
Exploring the dark, cavernous hallways on the first floor, I re-emerge into the foyer. The concrete form of the Confederation Ramp overhead is sculptural yet imposing, compressing this space and forcing my attention outside (9). This space feels very connected to the street due to the floor-to-ceiling windows, through which both cars and pedestrians can be seen passing by. Returning to the main foyer, I spot a quiet seating nook and administrative offices before exiting the facility.
Back on the sidewalk, I turn towards the building and suddenly understand its meaning: the Convention Centre isn’t solely a beautiful building that attracts considerable business, it’s successful because of the synergy derived from the interface of interior and exterior space. This is most evident in the street, where people pause to admire and photograph the façade that dissolves city life into a fascinating, shifting urban kaleidoscope (10).
Kelly Wojnarski is a landscape architectural intern in Ottawa.