Portrait Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

In joint venture with Teeple Architects of Toronto and David Cole of Ottawa.

A vacant lot immediately to the West of the ex US Embassy on Wellington Street, facing Parliament Hill in Ottawa, was the site for a competition in 2003 for the Portrait Gallery of Canada. The American Embassy was built by the distinguished American architect Cass Gilbert in 1931 (architect of the Woolworth building in New York City and the Minnesota State Capital) and was intended to form a part of the new gallery. The architectural problem therefore was to introduce a new building to form a pair with the neo-classical and symmetrically composed palazzo next door.
In urban design terms, the new gallery was to maintain the continuity of Wellington Street frontage and to consolidate the fourth side of the monumental quadrangle of Parliament Hill just east of the Peace Tower axis.

Our proposal was to house the permanent collection in the Embassy and to house temporary exhibitions and visitor facilities in the new addition. Although the Embassy is symmetrical and balanced, when seen from Parliament Hill, its rear south west corner is incomplete. Our architectural strategy was therefore to form a new Pavilion establishing a courtyard to separate and combine it with the Embassy.  An interlocking of two ‘Ls’ would form the physical connection into the vacant space behind. The new insertion is devoted to circulation and a place of orientation. We were intrigued by the various roles the courtyard could perform – at ground level a place of arrival and an open air gallery for sculpture/portraits busts – on the floors above it would provide a clear opening through which to view Parliament Hill and in the opposite direction to project portraits of Canadian notables. The courtyard would then be covered by an extended roof perforated by circular roof lights redirecting the sun down onto the ground below.  This would unexpectedly cast circular voids not unlike abstract faces on to the surface Wellington Street, announcing the presence of the Portrait Gallery.  The ‘Portrait Café’ on the 4th floor would provide unencumbered views of Parliament Hill, where many of those portrayed in the Gallery made their reputations, not unlike our National Portrait Gallery in London.  This we have termed ‘A National Portrait’.