McGill University (Meredith)



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    An architecture student's visit to Ottawa

    By Meredith
    Jul 22, '10 4:09 PM EST

    I feel very delinquent, I have ideas for several blog posts and I just can't stop procrastinating. But isn't that what the summer is for? Here is a very delayed post about my July 1st trip to Ottawa.

    Ottawa is not only the nation's capitol, but a lovely city to visit and only two hours away from Montreal (one of my choices for architecture school was Carleton University). In a last-minute decision, I decided to drop-in on a friend and check out Canada Day festivities. Unlike the other million tourists, I did not spend the day on the Hill, but rather chose to profit from free entry to the national museums. Although there are many museums in and around Ottawa, the three big ones (the ones I chose to visit) are the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian War Museum and the Canadian Museum of Civilization. All three museums border on the Ottawa River, allowing for plenty of green space near the water for leisure and recreation.



    Canadian Museum of Civilization
    architect: Douglas Cardinal
    opening: 1989
    location: Gatineau/Hull (across the river from Parliament)

    View from Alexandra Bridge.

    In French, its the Musée des civilizations (its plural: Museum of Civilizations). I find this very appropriate, the English should be the same. I walked across from the Ottawa side of the river, so I got to see the museum from the bridge. I'm not sure about the long-views... I'm not a huge fan of the bulbous green roof. Up close the buildings undulate, especial the curatorial centre. The sculptural qualities make me really want to see Cardinal's St. Mary's Church in Red Deer. I wasn't too impressed by the inside, perhaps because I have visited many times. The exhibition spaces are heavily adapted to fit the permanent exhibits (which are a ton of fun for kids).

    Curatorial offices building.

    Lounge space on the second level.

    The main reason for my visit was to check out the West-Coast exhibition in the Grand Hall. I wrote a paper on Haida architecture for my History of Housing course in the winter semester and wanted to see the Pacific-coast houses. What I found the most interesting was the way the different nations treated the wood - split planks, columns bearing chisel marks, there were so many different textures.

    Textures from the Native Pacific architecture in Canada Hall.


    Canadian War Museum
    architect: Moriyama & Teshima Architects
    opening: 2005
    location: LeBreton Flats (west of Parliament)

    The front of the museum rises out of the landscape like the prow of a ship.

    This museum has been a favourite of mine since its opening. I remember the first time I visited was only several months after the official opening. The landscaping wasn't finished and it was located in the middle of a muddy field (now LeBreton Flats park).

    The museum lobby connects the two entrances.

    The new Canadian War Museum is an absolute masterpiece of materiality. Some of the textures featured are recycled copper panels from the Library of Parliament and rough-wood textured concrete complete with fake bullet holes. I have recently read the book written by the principle architect, Raymond Moiryama, and so skipped the architectural tour and quickly hit-up some of my favourite spaces.

    Inside the Memorial Hall.

    My favourite space conceptually is the Memorial Hall located in the entrance lobby. Inside this small space is the original tomb-stone that marked the grave of Canada's unknown soldier. The solitary tomb-stone hanging on the wall is a sharp contrast from the rows of identical white markers in the Commonwealth cemeteries of Europe. I love that you can see the part of the stone that was buried underground. On 11am on November 11th of each year, light hits the tombstone from an aperture in the roof. One year I will have to be there to see it happen.

    If I had designed it, I would have made the space of the hall more like a place of worship. As it is, you enter into the room from a transitional passageway right that ends to the right of the tomb stone. I would rotate the space so that the stone was placed on the short wall, away from the entry, like in a chapel. But that's just me.

    The museum's south entrance.

    The part of the museum that I hadn't explored before was the roof walkway. The building was designed with two, equally important entrances. One faces the river, the other provides easy access from the main roads. Inside, the two entrances are connected by the lobby. Outside, the roof walkway connects the two sides of the building, offering views towards Parliament. I was pleasantly surprised by the field of poppies growing on-top.

    Peace Tower framed on the roof walkway.


    National Gallery of Canada
    architect: Moshe Safdie
    opening: 1988
    location: Sussex Drive (just east of Parliament)

    The museum's form is dominated by the Great Hall.

    I don't remember visiting the National Gallery before, but some of the interior spaces seemed familiar. I wasn't impressed by the building from outside. The largely glazed facade made me think of office buildings. Once inside, I quickly changed my mind about the building. Designed by Canadian/Israeli (and yes, American) architect Moishe Safdie, Mediterranean influences are can easily be seen inside. Walking up the entry ramp, the patterns of light caused by metal louvers immediately bring to mind the screens used in Islamic architecture. The warm-coloured stone and concrete seem to soak up the light. Funny how the thing I dislike most about the outer appearance is what really makes the museum inside. Inside the Canadian Gallery, there are two inner courtyards which draw light into the centre of the gallery and provide a place for respite. I'm a big fan of crisp lines and rectilinear designs, so I had a lot of fun photographing the museum.





    I promise a recap of last year before the next one begins.



    • Bench

      Ottawa is a great city, I live there! Did you see Pop Life while at the NAG? Excellent exhibit

      Jul 22, 10 9:54 pm

      I did see the exhibit. I will admit it was well done, but I didn't really enjoy it. Not my type of thing, although I was pretty happy to see Warhol's portrait of Gretzky.

      Jul 24, 10 11:25 am

      Great post, shame you didn't go see the gorgeously renovated museum of nature, it's a little away from the hill, though.

      Jul 24, 10 11:27 am

      i really wish these pictures were in color.

      Aug 5, 10 12:18 am

      Really? I was enjoying photographing in B&W.

      Aug 7, 10 9:55 pm

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