WZMH Architects and HDR design new building for Communications Security Establishment Canada

Fully committed to the safety and security of its people, the Government of Canada is working diligently to safeguard its national security. As part of this effort, the government has decided to modernize its security and intelligence infrastructure by building the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) Long-Term Accommodation Project (LTAP) in Ottawa to house Canada’s national cryptologic agency. WZMH Architects led the project, working with Associate Architect HDR.

Services provided by CSEC include acquiring foreign signals intelligence in support of defence and foreign policy; protecting electronic information and communication of importance to the Government of Canada; and providing technical and operational assistance to federal law-enforcement agencies.  

CSEC requires cutting-edge technology coupled with human creativity, with inter-community collaboration and teamwork being especially critical to increasing overall effectiveness. People, culture, technology and an enabling facility all play an important role in achieving CSEC’s mission. In addition to meeting government security and intelligence requirements, the new LTAP facility will be of substantial economic benefit to the community and is expected to generate approximately 4,000 employment opportunities. This significant capital investment reflects the government’s continued commitment to supporting job creation and economic growth, keeping Canadian streets, families and communities safe from crime and terrorism, while mapping out the road to economic recovery.

Expressive of the mission of CSEC, the iconic image of the LTAP is derived, in part, from the rationale behind an encryption key; a reflection of CSEC’s mission.  The physical form is an architectural interpretation of a maple key, (the maple tree’s distinctively shaped seed), subtly reminiscent of the literal and symbolic importance of the maple to Canada. The design concept resides in mathematical ontology, and is the genesis of the geometrical form and layout of the hub, the communal focus of the facility.

Within the hub, the form, placement and articulation of the various components, are derived from the same metaphysical concept: the rotation of a maple key as it falls to the ground. Just as man-made forms incorporate natural organizational metaphors into the design, so does the palette of finish materials. A rigorous mathematical understanding of organic form and proportion—especially their movement in nature—are at the root of the hub geometry, creating a seductive play of solid and void, light and shadow, straight and curved.

CSEC must recruit the best and the brightest Canadians to form a dedicated workforce comprised of engineers, computer scientists, programmers, physicists, mathematicians, language specialists and intelligence analysts. Most will spend their workday face to face with a computer, spending endless hours sorting, analyzing and synthesizing data. People engaged in this intensely focused technology-driven work require “relief.” In order to attract and retain these dedicated professionals, the LTAP is designed to provide just that. By emphasizing open airy space with access to daylight and views, work environments alleviate the sense of oppression that can result from feeling “chained” to a desk. 

A large vaulted roof unifies various components of the facility into a cohesive, singular organic form. Enveloped by this distinctive shape, contrasting geometrical volumes housing specific functions comprise the main building. In addition to satisfying program requirements, the footprint of the facility is designed to sensitively integrate into the surrounding heavily wooded lot, consistent with CSEC’s vision for a collaborative work environment that engages the outdoors.

Upon entering the building, employees and visitors who have been given security clearance pass through the Visitor Centre and Guard House, traversing a gently sloping ramp to arrive on the second floor overlooking the HUB. The communal “heart” of the building, the multi-story HUB contains collaborative areas such as meeting rooms, conference facilities and resource centers, as well as amenities including a cafeteria, coffee shop, green lounge, and fitness centre.

These shared functions are contained in wood-clad volumes whose proportions are derived from nature.  From this point, the interior space presents a lasting impression: treehouse structures rise inside the glazed west wall, drawing attention to the meadow and woods outside.

Office pods containing work groups radiate from the hub and are identified and differentiated with colour-coded front porches, an intuitive wayfinding system employed throughout the complex. The hub not only links the pods but also provides restricted access to CSEC’s mission-critical data centre. Each floor of the LTAP main building is designed to limit the time it takes to walk to any destination. The experience of walking from place to place is choreographed to include a variety of interactive activities, helping to foster a sense of community among different groups.

Each pod faces the hub with a front porch, a welcoming interactive area that is branded differently for each group for easy wayfinding. Inside the pod, formal conference rooms—the only enclosed formal spaces within the pod—are also branded for a specific group. A second collaboration zone, the back porch, located in the mid-zone of a pod is designed for a variety of team activities. In each pod, a technology wall will be custom equipped and furnished to meet an individual team’s requirements. Each pod also provides a mixture of collaborative environments based on other familiar gathering spaces, such as an airport lounge or coffee shop, and kitchen island. Get-away areas offer solitude and a change of scenery for contemplation and reflection. External egress stairs are fitted with oversized landings to create space for chance meetings, fostering collaboration among people working on different floors.

Office areas per se are designed to the distinct needs and idiosyncrasies of each group. They include a variety of work settings, rather than a sea of uniform and anonymous workstations. These work settings are located along the perimeter of the predominantly open space, with high ceilings and large windows providing abundant natural light and views outside. A raised floor allows for a flexible distribution system for power and other utilities to allow for quick changes in layout. Spine walls for workstations, and a post and beam system for collaboration areas, support a limited but interchangeable “kit of parts” to accommodate easy changes in configuration with no waste. 

A modern, intelligent building, LTAP employs innovative design features to ensure that CSEC remains at the forefront of mechanical, electrical, security and information technology. Additionally, the design enhances social dynamics by creating opportunities for formal and informal interaction, collaboration and group identity. Through an innovative approach to wayfinding and branding, the vast space is broken down to the human scale, providing employees with a sense of ownership and of place. It also displays and demonstrates CSEC’s commitment to stewardship of the environment by incorporating sustainable design principles and prudent use of natural resources. Taking advantage of the natural beauty of the site, the transparency of the design establishes visual and spatial continuity between inside and outside, man and nature. This creative approach to planning and to design has resulted in an innovative work environment that will empower CSEC’s employees to better serve the CSEC’s employees to better serve the CSEC mission and their country.

The project was the result of a P3 process conducted according to a 48-month project-delivery sched
ule. Aiming for LEED Gold certification, the 72,000-square-metre complex cost $867 million.