I was reading the Ottawa Citizen today, and I came across an article on a proposal for a national portrait gallery at the corner of Metcalfe and Nepean. The area is currently a parking lot.
The proposal calls for a “gallery would be located at the base of two slender 27-storey condo towers that [would] have ‘a certain panache,’ says Nathan Godlovitch, senior architect with Dan S. Hanganu Architects of Montreal,” according to the article. On the surface, this seemed like it should be a good thing, to me. I’m a supporter of mixed-use development, and a 27-storey condo would certainly add some good density to Centretown.
However, as I read on, I realized that there was a significant problem with the proposal: the gallery itself and the streetscape of the building. To paraphrase one of the criticisms quoted in the Citizen, the proposal for the gallery seems to be a homage—if you’re generous, or a rip-off if you’re not—to American architect Daniel Libeskind, known for his jarring, angular buildings, such as the Crystal extension to the Royal Ontario Museum.
While Ottawa could certainly use some more distinctive architecture, I’m not sure that this is the way to go. Having been by the Crystal in Toronto a couple of times, I’m still not sure exactly how I feel about it. It’s certainly impressive, on some level, even imposing, but it’s certainly not friendly or welcoming. While “imposing” might work for the War Museum, it’s definitely not the atmosphere you want to present for a portrait gallery, of all things. Ideally, a building like this should meet the street in a way that is as open and inviting as possible, in a way that makes you want to walk by and not be totally indifferent to what you’re passing. Will it happen? We’ll have to wait and see with this one, I think.
I also wanted to comment briefly on another aspect of the article:
“The current project is unusually high for Ottawa and will require a zoning change. Most of the area has a maximum permitted height of around 12 stories.” (emphasis mine)
This is something that frustrates me about Ottawa, we seem to be scared of height. Since when is 27 stories (probably between 110-120 metres for a condo development) unusually tall for a city with a metropolitan population of 1.2 million people? I honestly think it may be time for this city to start embracing some taller buildings, especially on the south side of downtown. It would provide some nice definition to the skyline, and, if handled properly, I don’t think it would adversely effect the urban landscape.