West Block’s transformation into the new home of the House of Commons

The new House of Commons in the West Block. Rebecca Lindell/Globalnews

OTTAWA – One of Canada’s most ambitious renovation projects is entering the home stretch.

With the final tiling, painting, and landscaping underway, Parliament Hill’s West Block is nearly set to welcome Members of Parliament to the new House of Commons.

Centre Block, where the Commons now sits, is slated to be shut down for a decade of badly-needed renovations.

READ MORE: Parliament Hill’s Centre Block closed for a decade of renovations

In its place is an unprecedented project that transforms the courtyard of a 150-year-old building into a state-of-the-art Chamber which marries soaring steel arches and a glass ceiling with Parliament’s iconic copper roofs and masonry.

The goal was to keep the House of Commons on Parliament Hill during the Centre Block renovations. The only area large enough was the exterior courtyard of the West Block.

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The challenge was to enclose it, all while enhancing and preserving the heritage building.

“As we move through the building, you will see that every time it’s possible, the old building appears and is revealed and is highlighted, most dramatically in the [House of Commons],” said Georges Drolet one of the lead architects on the project.

The solution was building a self-contained, autonomous structure that held a glass roof on its own foundations and complemented the neo-gothic architecture of Parliament Hill.

“The most important objectives of the work we are carrying out is making sure that these beautifully restored, heritage buildings meet the full requirements of Parliament and inspire pride in Canadians for generations to come,” said Rob Wright of Public Services and Procurement Canada, the department overseeing the project.

The project has been in the works for nearly eight years and has a budget of $863 million. The move from Centre Block was scheduled to happen this summer.

READ MORE: Behind the scenes of The West Block’s renovations

But Members of Parliament are going to have to wait an extra four months to move into their new digs. A parliamentary committee voted earlier this week to delay moving day to ensure the renovated West Block is full functional and operational. If everything goes to schedule, the first question period in the new space will be in early 2019.

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“Parliament is a unique environment that requires a fully functional and operational facility with uninterrupted services. Taking the time to ensure that the West Block is fully functional with all required technology, that it provides safe and secure facilities, and that it has the appropriate level of fully trained service staff is imperative to sustaining the work of Parliament,” said a statement from House of Commons Speaker Geoff Regan.

The day after the announcement, media were given a tour of the West Block as the construction team works towards their new deadline. Here’s a look behind the scenes of this week’s tour.

The new House of Commons in the West Block is actually an exterior courtyard that has been transformed by a glass-roofed enclosure. The courtyard was the only space large enough on Parliament Hill to house a temporary House of Commons. The design has to serve the needs of Parliament, but was also meant to evoke a sense of Canadian nature, for example, a being in a clearing in the forest. The architects studied the work of iconic Canadian artist Tom Thomson to capture that feeling. Rebecca Lindell/Globalnews
A shot of the House of Commons looking toward the Speaker’s chair. This photo shows placeholder desks made of plywood, but the current furniture from Centre Block will be moved into the space. The public galleries in the new space are also smaller with seating for 346 persons as opposed to 581. Rebecca Lindell/Global News
Neo-gothic arches in the new West Block are eye-catching and blend into the original Parliament architecture. They also serve an important purpose. The self-contained structure holds up the glass ceiling, so there is no pressure on the original West Block building. The square footage of the West Block was actually doubled during construction through excavation and adding floors below ground. The equivalent of 28 Olympic swimming pools of bedrock were excavated from the site. Rebecca Lindell/Global News
A striking glass ceiling is held up by an independent structure so there is no burden on the heritage building. The natural light is controlled by a automated system to filter direct sunlight. Rebecca Lindell/Global News
The new House of Commons showcases the iconic green copper roofs of the Parliament Building. The copper turns green over time as it is exposed to the elements. Since these roofs are covered by a ceiling, they would have never turned green naturally. Instead the construction team took used copper from the outside of the building and re-purposed it for the interior sections. Rebecca Lindell/Global News
The antechamber of the new House of Commons showcases the intersection of the two structures. In the foreground, there is an example of the wood finishes meant to enhance the acoustics of the space. Rebecca Lindell/Global News
This is one of four committee rooms in the West Block. This one is completely underground, situated two floors below the House of Commons chamber. The rooms feature all the latest technology and and can double as caucus rooms. Rebecca Lindell/Global News
The new Parliamentary dining room will be significantly smaller in the West Block with only 108 seats compared to the current 220 seats. This dining room is completely underground, but includes a vaulted ceiling, which pays homage to the domes in Centre Block’s dining room. Rebecca Lindell/Global News
Visitors to the West Block and the House of Commons will enter into a building that is completely below ground. The Visitor Welcome Centre was designed to be welcoming, generous and reflect the layers of viewpoints that are featured in areas of Centre Block like the foyer of the House of Commons. Rebecca Lindell/Global News
This area of the Visitor Welcome Centre is where guided tours will start and end. It’s neo-gothic details reference the architecture in the main structure of the West Block. Rebecca Lindell/Global News


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