Remember the first proposal for an addition to the romantic, picturesque Château Laurier? It was two boxes. Remember the second version? It was one long, low box. Remember the third? It was a long, low box with fins.

Impressed by that variety of design ideas? Neither was anyone else.

Throughout this excruciating and forlorn two-year process, we have been starved for genuine options – for a range of ideas that could excite us and expand our sense of what is possible.

But my colleague Mariana Esponda, along with her third-year students in Carleton’s Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism and a helping hand from Heritage Ottawa, have come to the rescue. Mariana gave her students an assignment: design an addition to the Château Laurier that is both contemporary and compatible with the historic building. They gave it everything they had. And thanks to a two-day exhibition sponsored by Heritage Ottawa, everyone will be able to see what they came up with. 

The student designs – which include sketches, plans and models – are such a breath of fresh air. And they send a bold, even subversive message: maybe it doesn’t have to be a box!

This exhibition gives us what that the official process has denied us: an opportunity to see a range of ideas, pick a favourite or two, argue about them over drinks with friends, and act as engaged, passionate citizens who really care about their city and its heritage. The public conversation about this project has been more and more hemmed in by a proponent (Larco) and City increasingly determined to limit and control the message. We haven’t been given the chance to have an open, freewheeling conversation about this, so we’ll just have to make that chance for ourselves.

Step one: come to this exhibition.

Outside the Box: Alternative Designs for an Addition to the Château Laurier

December 8, 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM
December 9, 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM

Hintonburg Community Centre, Laroche Room, 1064 Wellington Street West, Ottawa

Peter Coffman