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Canadian Modern Architecture: National Arts Centre

01 Oct 2019
Image Credit: National Arts Centre, exterior view along the Rideau Canal in Ottawa. H. Roger Jowett, courtesy Alexander Jowett and Canadian Architect magazine fonds, Ryerson University Library and Archives.
Architectural Credit: Affleck, Desbarats, Dimakopoulos, Lebensold, Sise, 1969.

This month, World Architecture Day is celebrated around the globe. In Canada, October also marks the debut of the first comprehensive review of Canadian architecture in decades. Co-published by Canadian Architect magazine and Princeton Architectural Press, the book Canadian Modern Architecture, 1967 to the Present, will be released on Monday, October 28. It launches with a series of events in cities across Canada, including several events in Ontario that have been supported by the OAA.

To celebrate the book, the blOAAg will include eight excerpts—chosen by co-editor Elsa Lam—over the month. Today’s selection is about the National Arts Centre, taken from Marco Polo and Colin Ripley’s chapter, “The Centennial Projects: Building the New.”
On the heels of their success with the Fathers of Confederation Memorial Buildings, Affleck, Desbarats, Dimakopoulos, Lebensold, and Sise received the commission for a building that would serve as the flagship of the Centennial Projects, and the nation’s premier cultural performance venue.

For the National Arts Centre project, led by partner Fred Lebensold, the architects elaborated on themes already developed in the Charlottetown project, creating a series of discrete performance spaces that were clearly expressed as distinct buildings emerging from a series of terraces. However, where the Fathers of Confederation Memorial Buildings’ modernity is tempered by their nod to context through scale and material treatment, the National Arts Centre unabashedly turns its back on the built context of Ottawa to instead engage the Rideau Canal. In addition, its embrace of the rugged language of textured concrete in various forms places it squarely in the brutalist tradition, expressing a break in historic continuity. The entry sequence eschews the formal, frontal approach typical of performance spaces in favor of a distributed, interconnected system of multileveled lobbies, expressing the project more as a constructed landscape than a conventional building form.

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