Canadian Architect

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Parliamentary Briefing

It Took Nearly Ten Years to Document, Design and Implement a $136-Million Rehabilitation Effort That Brought Canada's Library of Parliament Into the 21st Century.

September 1, 2006
by Canadian Architect

Project Library of Parliament Conservation, Rehabilitation and Upgrade, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Ontario

Architects Ogilvie and Hogg, Desnoyers Mercure & Associes, Spencer R. Higgins and Michael Lundholm Associates Architects, in Joint Venture

Text Ian Chodikoff

For many years, the conservation, rehabilitation and upgrade of Canada’s Library of Parliament was in the planning stage. Questions associated with such issues relating to adequate humidity control for the preservation of its building collections, or the matter of functional programming meant that this iconic historic building was rapidly approaching the end of its useful life. Thankfully, a recently completed rehabilitation project allowed the facility to continue to operate as a fully functional reference library for parliamentarians and a gallery for the members of the press.

The key objectives in the project were to conserve, rehabilitate and upgrade the Library while extending its service life for another 50 years. Another challenge was to ensure that the facility could provide professional services support for Parliament and house its collections while maintaining a safe and comfortable work environment for its staff and users. For many years, the Library had undergone several smaller modifications but nothing of this magnitude. Notwithstanding significant building technology failures such as water infiltration, leaking windows and a lack of adequate heating and ventilation, the need for additional staff, expanding collections, and evolving requirements for computers and documents retrieval created a programmatic nightmare threatening the Library’s complete closure.

Construction finally ended in May 2006, and the conservation effort was achieved through a joint venture involving several architecture firms. From Ottawa, Ogilvie and Hogg managed the project under the leadership of Michael Hogg, the joint venture project director. The Montreal firm of Desnoyers Mercure & Associs acted as the design architects, developing and implementing the heritage conservation strategy as well as the programmatic requirements outlined by the two remaining members of the architectural team. Having originally performed a preliminary historic building survey of the Library in 1990, the Toronto firm of Spencer R. Higgins Architects continued their research into the history of the project as well as documenting the existing built fabric and consulting on a range of interventions thereafter–notably a new roof design. Finally, Michael Lundholm Associates Architects’ contribution was interior planning and design of the Library, including the architectural furniture in the Reading Room.

When the picturesque bluff on the Ottawa River was selected for the Library of Parliament, Canada wasn’t even a country. Believing that libraries, knowledge and books were the cornerstone of good governance, the Librarian of the Legislative Assembly at the time, Alpheus Todd, developed a design competition for a building that was inspired by the concentric radial plan of the Reading Room inside the British Museum. In addition to requiring the building to be non-combustible, Todd prescribed a cement floor, slate shelves, iron stacks, a site for the building far enough from the Parliament buildings to mitigate fire damage.

Construction of the Library began in December 1859. In a High-Victorian Neo-Gothic style of architecture, Fuller and Jones Architects designed a freestanding octagonal building with inner and outer rings of load-bearing masonry walls. Sixteen radiating flying buttresses supported the walls and roof in an eclectic and picturesque style referred to as “structural polychromy,” in part due to the multi-coloured purple and green slate banding on the main roof as well as the four types of stone used on the project: grey Gloucester limestone, grey Nepean, red Potsdam and buff Ohio sandstones. The original design included tinned iron on the lantern roof and black galvanized iron on the lower roof. When the slate shingles blew off the building after a tornado struck Parliament Hill in 1888, the main Library roof was entirely re-clad in copper. The French traditionally used slate shingles, while the British traditionally used metal roofs. The combination of these two building materials for the original roof was a symbolic bridging of two solitudes, not to mention an adherence to the requirement of having Canadian-made building materials. During the late 1990s, a joint venture for the rehabilitation suggested the possibility of returning to a polychromatic slate roof. However, after some discussion with Public Works and Government Services Canada and the Library of Parliament, it was determined that the common aesthetic for all the buildings on Parliament Hill would be copper.

Work on the Library continued through Confederation in 1867, but due primarily to escalating labour costs, the federal government stopped work on the project. It would take two years before work resumed. Soon after, builders discovered that they didn’t know how to construct the roof, so Thomas Fairbairn Engineering Co. Ltd, a Manchester wrought-iron manufacturer was eventually contacted to provide a pre-fabricated dome in a matter of weeks. Wrought-iron framework was state-of-the-art at this time, and it is believed that the Library’s dome was the first of its kind in North America. Vastly over budget, the Library was finally opened in 1877. Completed before the advent of electrification in the Parliament buildings, it was not until 1883 when nearly 300 gas lights were converted to electricity. In February 1916, a fire broke out in the Centre Block. Although the original Parliament buildings were only partially damaged, a hasty wartime cabinet decided to completely destroy, rather than repair everything except the Library, which survived primarily due to a set of large curved iron doors providing adequate fire separation between the Library and the Centre Block. In August 1952, another fire broke out–this time above the Library’s original wrought-iron trusses, destroying the interior of the dome along with thousands of books below.

After the 1952 fire, the Toronto architecture firm of Mathers and Haldenby led a reconstruction effort to remove the original timber roof structure above the dome, replacing it with steel. The architects also installed tonnes of additional plaster fireproofing, rebuilt the plaster ceiling and detailing, and attempted to increase levels of lighting by adding new light fixtures and painting the ceiling cream. In order to expand upon the space required for the Library’s collection–a growing problem since the 1930s–the architects removed the brick-arched vaults and installed two levels of steel-framed stacks, with minimum headroom. While this major renovation undertook minor adjustments to the mechanical systems and reconfigured office and research space, fundamental problems associated with the building’s envelope and mechanical system had yet to be adequately addressed.

Planning and design for the latest rehabilitation began in 1996. Public Works and Government Services Canada provided the joint venture with what existing documentation they had but it was incomplete, requiring the preparation of new base drawings. Led by Spencer Higgins, a detailed measured survey of the building was undertaken. This labour-intensive process involved compiling earlier documentation and hand-drawn notations, undertaking a precision survey, laser measurement and photogrammetry–a process involving the technique of stereophotography that is designed to overcome the problem of displacement caused by camera tilt and variations on the surface of the subject being photographed. The net result is a three-dimensional image of a building that can provide accurate points in which to measure the building. On the exterior of the building alone, over 1,000 control points were used in preparing measurements with a laser theodolite, a precision instrument for measuring angles to vertical and
horizontal planes. Theodolite measurements basically involve a form of telescope that can rotate horizontally and vertically, allowing readings to be taken from a fixed control point. Collectively, everything was then methodically inputted into a computer using CATIA modelling software. As CATIA was fairly new at the time, and a very specialized and expensive digital modelling tool, IBM offered to assist the team in their digitizing efforts–which were essential to the required deconstruction of the existing envelope and roof. To design for seismic upgrading and to understand the steel truss and iron roof frame interface with the curved masonry elements, accurate digital models needed to be prepared which validated much of this up-front work documenting the existing conditions.

With accurate base drawings, the architects could then begin evaluating the history of the building to solidify fundamental approaches to dealing with the Library’s architectural history. This led to the development of three basic conservation strategies for the rehabilitation process: “Layers of History: Neo-Gothic Reinstated” (based on the 1953 renovations, this was the scheme that was eventually selected); “After the Storm: Gothic Revival Amended” (the building as it was just after the 1888 renovation); and finally “A Revitalized Picturesque: Polychromatic Gothic Revived” (bringing back the polychromatic slate tiles from the original version along with the tripartite dormers on the main roof). Public Works and Government Services Canada prepared three computer-generated models using additional data collated by the project’s joint venture.

The architectural challenges associated with the prioritization of the original design, as well as its various historical design interventions included handling issues ranging from debunking theories about the original paint on the building’s distinctive weathervane to the importance of the lantern windows or the legitimacy of subsequent alterations affecting the qualities of natural and artificial light. For example, Jozef Zorko, the project’s design architect, explained the merits associated with painting the various plaster elements on the ceiling of the Reading Room to what it is today. The client seemed to have accepted the 1953 intervention of painting the entire ceiling cream–but this approach was not sympathetic to the Library’s original design. Quite possibly the most significant change concerning the Library’s rehabilitation was the installation of the necessary system of concealed roof gutters–a well-documented problem from nearly the beginning of the building’s history and thus an additional element that could not be viewed as a compromise to the heritage value of the Library.

The lack of a proper roof drainage system was also linked to myriad problems associated with water infiltration. These issues ranged from the delamination of stone, corrosion of window frames, two-inch-thick frost forming on the inside walls of the towers, the growth of mould and problems associated with cracking plaster. Along with designing and installing a new gutter system complete with heat tracers and moisture monitors, the roof of the Library was carefully air-sealed and insulated to prevent ice buildup. This was the only part of the building where insulation was added. While new 20-ounce copper roofs were installed, the lantern was covered with Monel flashings–a naturally occurring corrosion-resistant alloy invented in Canada that is made with 70 percent nickel and 30 percent copper. When viewed today, the Monel flashings provide a visual relief to the copper roof, giving off a white-hot reflection from the sun.

Structurally, the building was a potential disaster. Water had caused significant damage from the upper lanterns right down to the lower roof, affecting areas around the flying buttresses–many of which were fully saturated with water. As for the load-bearing masonry, water damage had taken its toll on the two concentric rings of double-wythe load-bearing masonry walls constructed with a hydraulic lime and rubble core. Severe water infiltration for over a century necessitated the removal and testing of several core samples of the existing load-bearing walls, revealing that much of the lime had dissolved, leaving a sandy fill inside the cavity. In theory, the solution was simple: install 25,000 grout tubes in the masonry walls and begin the process of pumping in liquid grout. In practice, over two painstaking years were spent on testing and finalizing an approved lime-based grout mixture that would be able to work its way even into hairline fractures, but would be vapour-permeable, low-strength and flexible enough to pass freeze-thaw, load and seismic testing. When it came time to fill the walls with grout, original estimates called for roughly 30 tonnes of grout but when the process was finally completed, a whopping 230 tonnes of grout were injected into the masonry walls.

The exterior of the masonry walls had also suffered from soot and salt damage over the years, affecting the surface and washing away significant amounts of jointing mortar, necessitating a major process of repointing the masonry. Specially formulated black, red and buff hydraulic lime mortars were developed and extensively tested for use on the Library to provide the 50-year maintenance-free period required by the client. Repointing the masonry is an art as much as a skill. The hydraulic lime mortar initially cures within one to three hours before workers rake it back and tamp it with a brush, which not only gives it a weathered finish but eliminates the occurrence of initial shrinkage cracks.

Rain and wind brought water in through the walls and windows. The older windows, which were rebuilt around 1902, had experienced deteriorated glazing compound, peeling paint as well as moisture infiltration across the bottom and surrounding iron frame. On the exterior, the lead cames were weak due to metal fatigue and corrosion. Consequently, every leaded window was rebuilt. There were 110 different types of windows throughout the building requiring repair, and a beautiful series of bronze-framed windows were installed behind every window as the primary air and vapour barrier. Additionally, the upper lantern windows had to be installed within a steel isolation frame tied back to the original steel structure. The isolation frame consisted of a series of springs to ensure that the bronze window remained centred within its opening, as the building shifts from either wind or seismic activity. The exterior windows were all restored and fitted with removable bronze windows on the interior. The new grey-tinted windows also have a ballistic film that not only mitigates any glare and damaging UV light, but protects the occupants from falling glass in the event of an explosion. As far as natural lighting is concerned, the Library continues to rely primarily on natural light but over the years, fluorescent lighting was installed on the ground floor which nevertheless resulted in insufficient light levels. Even though the 1953 renovations added a series of pendant lights around the centre of the Reading Room to bring more general lighting down into the main space and to filter more natural light into the stacks, it was determined that the design for the original glass floors should be reinstated. Therefore, the 1953 plywood floors within the stacks were replaced with two layers of laminated 10-millimetre float glass. The underside of the glass floor assembly is textured with a pebble finish to mitigate the potentially unsettling experience of walking on a transparent floor. It was important that there be a solid frame for the glass as well as a method of ensuring that new cabling could be installed without interfering with the transparent quality. The solution was to design a supporting steel sub-frame, concealed with finished pine and bronze trim at the edge. Additional uplighting was added and existing light fixtures were modified to bring the Reading Room up to acceptable modern illumination standards.

Flooring was another signific
ant area of concern. Over the years, general wear and tear had worn out the floor. Roughly 500,000 visitors view the Library every year, and foot traffic wore down the floors to such an extent that they had to be patched and screwed down to prevent the wood from popping out of place. Adding electrical capacity and other general wiring requirements over the years had effectively turned the old wooden floors into Swiss cheese, necessitating the complete replacement of the main floor of the library, involving thousands of hours in labour.

A major component of the project’s rehabilitation is the replacement of the outdated mechanical system. The original HVAC principle was to bring fresh air in from an 1870s tunnel that came out at the cliff face overlooking the Ottawa River. This principle was no longer adequate, especially since the Library needed its HVAC to be divided into functional zones, all of which had tight standards for relative humidity and temperature. Before the rehabilitation began, it was found that the perimeter office spaces did not even have a fresh air supply and there were only basic heating units to warm the staff. With a completely new mechanical plant proposed, it was determined that the best location for it was directly underneath the existing Library Reading Room and stacks. With five separate mechanical systems ranging from a controlled environment for rare manuscripts to basic mechanical systems for heating and cooling the perimeter offices, the size of the mechanical room was substantial. As any aboveground expansions were unacceptable, Golder Associates, a geotechnical sub-consultant to the architects, assessed the risks of creating a 30-foot-deep mechanical space out of the bedrock. After determining that no excessive vibrations during the construction process would damage the historic building, the excavation project used a variety of construction methods such as hoe-ramming for rock removal, percussion drilling for anchor installations, hydraulic rock-splitting technology, precision line drilling, and the application of a reverse bore drill for the construction of the angled vent ducts. New excavations using traditional and mining equipment at the basement and sub-basement levels meant that the previous book stacks would be significantly improved. After the rock excavation was completed, a reinforced concrete wall assembly with supporting arches was constructed in 30-foot sections.

The complexity involved in renovating one of Canada’s most important libraries should not be taken for granted. The peculiarities of its High-Victorian Neo-Gothic architecture necessitated a concerted effort to intensively document the building’s existing conditions and historical development. Collectively, the ten-year process of bringing the Library of Parliament into the 21st century involved the work of many specialized trades and consultants. At first glance, the end result is a project that doesn’t appear significantly different than the original, one of the major objectives of the project team. However, when one considers that the building has been completely re-wired, air conditioned, insulated, re-floored, and properly illuminated–not to mention that it no longer leaks, is structurally viable and finally has a proper roof drainage system–it could be said that the project is a benchmark case study for state-of-the-art conservation. One can only hope that the government will support an initiative to make its complete documentation of the rehabilitation process available to the public as much as safety and security measures allow. This will not only validate the history of the building, but will showcase the power of architecture and the range of conservation expertise and vision brought to the project by its architects, specialized trades and consultants.

Client Public Works and Government Services Canada

Project Director Michael Hogg

Design Architect Jozef Zorko

Conservation Architect Spencer Higgins

Library Planner Michael Lundholm

Assistant Project Director Lance Poulter

Project Management G.B. Padam Management

Costing Hanscomb Ltd.

Structural Adjeleian Allen Rubeli Ltd.

Mechanical/Electrical Pageau Morel Et Associes

Geotechnical Golder Associates Ltd.

Seismic Engineering S. Chidiac & Associates

Landscape Lashley & Associates

Building Science National Research Council, Morrison Hershfield

Elevator Design KJA Consultants Ltd.

Environmental Engineering Pinchin Environmental Ltd.

Civil Engineering Novatech Engineering Ltd.

Lighting Ernest Wotton and Martin Conboy

Building Controls EMCS Engineering

Commissioning F. Vaculik Engineering

Air Quality Inair Environmental

Hardware James Wakeman

Historian Stephen Otto

Heritage Conservator Laszlo Cser

Masonry Conservator Peter Ellison

Metals Conservator Susan Stock

Architectural Conservation Laboratory Arcontest Inc.

Object Conservation Laboratory Restorart Inc.

Contractor Thomas Fuller Construction Ltd.

Area 3,893 M2

Budget $72m

Project Cost $136m

Completion August 2006

Building Chronology

1858 Governor General announces that Queen Victoria has chosen Ottawa as the seat of Government for Canada.

1859 Fuller & Jones’ design for Parliamentary and Library Buildings selected.

1861 Construction on Parliament Buildings halted–funds exhausted.

1873 Wrought-iron roof structure from Thomas Fairbairn Engineering Company Ltd. of Manchester, England completed.

1877 Library is completed, occupied and becomes operational.

1888 Cyclone hits Ottawa; slate tiles blown off Library and other buildings on Parliament Hill.

1893 Electric lights installed.

1916 Centre Block destroyed by fire; Library saved.

1952 Library’s dome catches fire; damage to roof, collections and building fabric.

1953-56 Mathers and Haldenby Architects of Toronto begin reconstruction and renovation.

1990 Spencer R. Higgins Architect of Toronto retained to report on condition of Library fabric and its conservation.

1997 PWGSC issues Proposal Call to Architects for the Conservation, Rehabilitation & Upgrade of the Library.

1998 Joint venture formed between Ogilvie & Hogg, Desnoyers Mercure, Spencer R. Higgins and Lundholm Associates.

1998-2001 Preparation of design drawings and tender documents.

2002 Thomas Fuller Construction awarded contract for the work by PWGSC. President William Fuller is a great-great grandson of the Library’s original architect, Thomas Fuller.

2002-2006 Library vacated, fully enclosed and conservation work underway.

2006 Minister of Public Works hands over a conserved, refurbished and upgraded Library to the Parliamentary Librarian, 119 years after its initial opening in 1877.




Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect is a magazine for architects and related professionals practicing in Canada. Canada's only monthly design publication, Canadian Architect has been in continuous publication since 1955.
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