Château Laurier addition critic cites historical impact of maligned design

***THIS IS AN OLD RENDERING*** A proposed new addition to Château Laurier has drawn criticism from both city councillors and the public. City of Ottawa

Peter Coffman has spent the better part of 30 years studying Gothic Revival architecture in Canada and abroad and while he can’t speak for the original architects of the Château Laurier, he’s confident they would be appalled by the new design.

According to Coffman, the original designers of the hotel, first Bradford Gilbert then Ross and MacFarlane, chose the Gothic Revival style both to complement the nearby Parliament and to create a view they believed was worthy of the nation’s capital.

“They knew this style would fit perfectly with this setting,” said Coffman.

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Now Coffman says the new design threatens to damage the architects’ vision, adding a “box” to a picture imprinted on the hearts and minds of not only Ottawans but Canadians from all over.

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Coffman is critical of the new design but says his issue is not with the architecture — he says the design would be perfect farther west at LeBreton Flats — but with the design and its radical difference from the hotel itself.

“They started with a box and they tried to retrofit it, but that doesn’t work,” said Coffman. “We’ve been told it has to be a box — then it should be better integrated. There’s been so little sensitivity to the view they (the original architects) worked so hard to cultivate.

“The Château Laurier is very much of its place and of its time. With this addition, it’s of its time, but not its place.”

Coffman is also critical of the city’s approach to the matter, as he believes the council’s delegation of authority to staff earlier in the procedure is “disappointing.”

“I think they’ve washed their hands of the responsibility,” said Coffman. “They have not stepped up to the plate.”

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury put forth a motion at the last planning committee meeting to vote on whether to revoke the heritage permit needed to start building the addition. While Coffman applauds this motion, the city says it could pave the way for long and costly litigation.

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The city says that in terms of the Ontario Planning Act, the design meets all the appropriate criteria and fits within the city’s official plan.

“The planning committee considered the application consistent with the Ontario Planning Act and with the official plan,” the city wrote in a release after the planning committee approved the design.

“The addition will focus on leisure or cultural uses and will be at a scale that’s appropriate to its surroundings. The design respects the area’s unique character and, at seven storeys, protects key views to Parliament and other national symbols.”

Council will vote on Fleury’s motion at its next and final meeting before the summer break starts on July 10.

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