Canada House in London’s Trafalgar Square reopens after renovation

Canada’s home in the United Kingdom has reopened its doors after a massive rejuvenation. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth officially reopened Canada House on Trafalgar Square, the home of the Canadian High Commission in London. Stantec, a global design firm with deep Canadian roots, served as the lead designer on the revitalization.

The project not only renews the 200-year-old Canada House, it connects the Chancery to the adjacent building at 2-4 Cockspur Street. As a result, for the first time in 50 years, Canadian High Commission staff are under one roof, in one of the most prominent squares in central London.

“Our goal for this project was to return Canada House to its original architectural glory—to create a jewel for Canada in the heart of the UK,” says Aaron Taylor, architectural lead on the project.

The Canadian High Commission’s wanted the new Canada House to embody Canada in the 21st century—and to celebrate the best of Canadian art, design and manufacturing expertise. Stantec’s work revitalizing Canada House dovetails perfectly with this vision; it showcases the firm’s depth and breadth of expertise across the country.

“It’s been so exciting to see the building transformed back to its original Neoclassical form,” says Cindy Rodych, lead interior designer on the project. “Today, Canada House is rich with light and activity. It’s a place where staff and guests can delight in 19th-century charm flavoured by 21st-century design.”

The project presented many design challenges but core to the redevelopment was the question: How do you represent the cultural diversity and geographic uniqueness of Canada within one coherent space?

“One design element that stands out is the use of Canadian wood throughout,” says Rodych. “Given the fact that Canada is the largest wood exporter in the world, it was important to showcase this, one of Canada’s most significant natural resources, throughout the project.” The public lobby at the 2-4 Cockspur entrance and the staff amenity spaces showcase Canadian hemlock and maple, while solid oak and walnut are used as flooring and door materials across both buildings.

Key design features include the “cascading” staircase within The Queen Elizabeth Atrium. The space, untouched since the 1980s, offered a perfect opportunity to integrate several of the mission’s key design principles: infusion of natural light, the celebration of Canadian products and the creation of an interactive environment. “The cascading staircase is the central component of the atrium,” says Noel Best, lead design architect on the project. “Each flight rises vertically and also steps horizontally into the atrium. The resulting open space creates the opportunity for social connection and activity. Natural light from the skylight above illuminates every flight of stairs, injecting warmth into the heart of the building.”

One of the truly unique spaces created through this transformation is the addition of a rooftop terrace at Canada House. “With spectacular views of central London, this newly created outdoor terrace, with both a green roof and a green wall, will provide Canada’s guests with one of the most enviable event venues in the city,” says Best.

Canada House also draws upon the diverse talents of Canadian artisans from coast to coast. Throughout the building, meeting spaces and ceremonial rooms are named for each of Canada’s provinces, territories and oceans. Each space embodies the design themes of climate and geography, with everything from art to furniture to custom-made carpets sourced from Canadian artists and artisans.

The original library in Canada House, abandoned and filled in during the 1980s, has been restored. The original double-height volume of the library has been reinstated to create an open and light-filled workspace. The Trade Department finds a new home on the lower level. A mezzanine houses a library of Canadian Governor General and Giller Prize winning literary works, and a gallery to showcase the Chancery’s collection of Inuit sculpture.

“Canada House represents one of the most significant building refurbishments on Trafalgar Square in the past decade,” says Aaron Taylor. “This project is not only an investment in the city of London and in the larger idea of city building but, most importantly, it celebrates the strong historic ties between Canada and the United Kingdom.”

Canada’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Gordon Campbell, said: “Stantec has been instrumental in helping us to deliver a building that Canadians everywhere can be truly proud of. From their vision of how best to revitalize a challenging heritage building, to bringing in the very best of Canadian materials, they help tell the story of what Canada—and its world-leading firms—can deliver. We are grateful for their hard work and dedication to Canada House.”