The Ottawa Convention Center requested ‘Iconic’ architecture for the design of its new facility. We believe this refers to an architecture that engages its city and the public in an emotional and intellectual manner. IT captures the imagination, tells a story, and leaves an indelible memory. Located along the Rideau Canal (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the new 362,000 sf convention center was a complex undertaking. It involved a complicated demolition of existing Congress Center, projection of the Rideau Center Mall, reclamation of two lanes of Colonel By Drive, construction of the new facility and the creation of a new urban plaza.
Convention centers, by function, are large boxes. Our goal was to keep the functional program housed in the most compact box attainable and to use freeform glass to wrap the more malleable programs. Inspired by the Japanese markets displaying artfully wrapped and hung merchandise, we wanted the OCC’s wrapping to be an intrinsic part of the facility, functionally protective but beautiful.
Our urban design approach was to have the new OCC sit comfortably on the site, respectful of its neighbors and to be a bold and stunning image for the future of the city. The curve from top to bottom minimizes the imposing bulk of the large exhibit halls above and allows more daylight to the plaza. The curve form north to south frames stunning views to the city. The deliberately “soft” form avoids uncomfortable geometric contrasts with the immediate context.
As LEED-Gold certification candidate, the OCC features: a 60’ long, four-story tall wood slat wall milled from reclaimed logs; the reuse of the existing congress hall’s long span steel trusses in alternate bays of the new 200’ wide Exhibit Hall structure; and a 23m3 (6,000 gallon) two-tier grey water cistern fed by roof storm water is used to feed the low flow fixtures. The abundant use of natural light changes the space throughout the day (and seasons) from neutrality to great drama. It is poignantly dramatic on the exterior, changing from a very voluptuous glass form by day to having it almost disappear from view, exposing a series of interior stages by night.
The three M’s in our design objectives (Marketable, Manageable, and Memorable) address the client, the event planner and the delegate’s different needs. By maximizing the amount of column free space, offering different meeting room configurations, and providing a range of control options, we created a solution that was a more flexible, more efficient, and more innovative than client anticipated.
Our ambition was to create a building that tells stories and speaks to a city, not simply moving into the 21st century, but helping to define it. From north to south, the OCC’s sinuous profile is suggestive of tulip petals yet the western elevation is more vessel-like, making reference to its historic setting as the turn-around basin for canal barges. The folds and free ends of the glass are less literal and more descriptive of Ottawa’s swirling winter winds - an imaginative discernment of the City of Ottawa.