March 3, 2004
by Canadian Architect
The Canadian Museum of Nature has selected a joint-venture consortium of architects for the rehabilitation of its Victoria Memorial Museum Building (VMMB). After several years in the making, the museum’s desire to proceed with a major renovation has now been given the approval to proceed with a $94-million renovation and expansion, despite the federal government’s freeze on capital spending. The consortium comprises three notable firms and involves over 90 professionals. The three firms in the joint-venture consortium are: Ottawa-based Barry Padolsky Associates Inc. Architects (BPA), Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects of Toronto, and Gagnon, Letellier, Cyr, Architects (GLC) of Quebec City.
Under the direction of Barry Padolsky, BPA will be primarily responsible for the project management, architectural heritage conservation, tendering and construction review services. Louise McGugan is the project’s architect. BPA was the prime consultant for the exterior renovation of the VMMB, which was conducted between 1989 and 1997. Bruce Kuwabara will lead KPMB primarily through the project’s stages of schematic design and design development. Led by Marc Letellier, GLC will be primarily responsible for construction documents, multi-phase occupancy planning and quality control services.
The original museum was built in 1915. Designed by federal government architect David Ewart, it has been described as “Scottish baronial” in design. The focal point was a stone tower with large windows and turrets over the main entrance, which was on axis with Metcalfe Street. As the heavy sandstone building was being built on the famous clay soil found throughout Ottawa, the building began to sink and the upper part of the tower was removed.
For the current renovation, Bruce Kuwabara proposes a two-storey ‘lantern’ to recreate the demolished entrance tower that was part of Ewart’s original design. The ‘lantern’ will also allow the building to communicate its contents to its context. The new tower will be 33 metres from top to bottom, and will sit on a new and quite solid foundation.
The five-year project will begin in May 2004. The renovation includes installing a steel frame inside the existing stone walls that will provide seismic upgrading. New gallery spaces will result through the upgrading of HVAC and lighting systems, in addition to making visitor services and orientation much clearer.
The new addition will feature a central staircase that will complement the large suspended artifacts, such as a whale skeleton or a dinosaur fossil that will continue to amaze visitors, often children. At night, the ‘lantern’ will revert to a beacon for the neighbourhood.
Because the galleries will have updated environmental controls, the museum will be able to show an increased percentage of their collection. Fewer than two per cent of the museum’s 10 million objects, including plants, animals, minerals and fossils from Canada and the world, are on display.
A new 25,000-square-foot underground extension for storage, mechanical and loading facilities will bring the total area of the museum to about 175,000 square feet. This addition on the south side will be covered with grass, trees and paving stones to create a terrace for special events and museum programs. The current design also proposes an all-season waterfall cascading over the podium of this extension. Parking will shift to the east side of the building. The west lawn will be expanded and will include a pedestrian promenade through the site from Elgin Street to O’Connor.
Drawings, plans, and an overview of the project is available at www.nature.ca/reno
Detail view of the new glass tower.