By Phil Roberts…
Unlike some national capitals, Ottawa isn’t a network of broad, processional avenues marked by nodes of monumental architecture built to instill jealousy on visiting dignitaries or intimidate a docile citizenry. Ottawa is a humble, peaceful city that inspires the civic consciousness of its citizens and Canada. For far too long, Ottawa’s unpretentiousness has prompted some Canadians, particularly those from Montreal and Toronto, to derisively describe it as a boring city. However, events like this week’s Ottawa Architecture Week, are part of a new movement of creative professionals countering that narrative.
“Ottawa is both a big city and a small city,” says Nico Valenzuela, Chair of Ottawa Architecture Week (OAW). “It’s very accessible to nature, but has the same amenities of a larger centre. It has incredible institutions, museums and art.”
Ottawa’s growing music and art scene is part of the city’s creative renaissance. There might not be a Queen Street West or a St. Laurent Boulevard with block after block of creative professionals, but Ottawa’s C-class are easy to find if you’re really curious.
“There is a younger generation of Ottawans who are tired of hearing their city labelled as boring,” explains Valenzuela. “The growth in the Ottawa arts scene inspired the creation of Ottawa Architecture Week because we felt that architects were missing out on this new conversation.”
As a result of Ottawa’s small size, it wasn’t difficult finding people to collaborate. Historically, the forum for discussions about architecture, urban planning, landscape architecture and development was the National Capital Commission (NCC) and its predecessors, the Ottawa Improvement Commission (1899), and Federal District Commission (1927).
For example, Ottawa Architecture Week is offering a tour of a mixed-use development in Lebreton Flats, a working class neighbourhood that sat undeveloped for 40 years after it was demolished to enlarge the capital by 1950 The Gréber Plan. Now, the NCC is leading a redevelopment of the historical area which will see mid-rise condos replace low-rise town housing. Ottawans will surely be opinionated about what happens to Lebreton Flats.
Valenzuela sees OAW as reaching out to local communities who are already engaging with the city’s built environment, such as the Azrieli School of Architecture + Urbanism at Carleton, and Ottawa-based installation artist Michael M Simon. It brings all the different concerns and ideas together in an event where professors, authors, journalists, artists, students, activists and architects, from Ottawa and elsewhere in Canada, get to learn from each other.
Even architects from other countries attend OAW, encouraged to participate by the many foreign embassies based in Ottawa. “We didn’t have the time to include all the participants from embassies who wanted architects from their countries to participate,” explains Valenzuela.
From architecture students to foreign ambassadors, many people seem to be invested in the changing reputation of Ottawa. Away from the recognizable landmarks along Confederation Boulevard are young children building their imaginations, artists stirring people to examine the familiar, filmmakers depicting the life of Ottawans, authors telling their tales in full detail and architects presenting possibilities.
The event goes from September 28 to October 5. More info on Ottawa Architecture Week.
Phil Roberts is the creator of sixty7 Architecture Road.