In a piece in today’s National Post, Larco representative Dennis Jacobs used what I call the “Disneyland Cliché”:
What they want to see is a replica Disneyland version of the hotel. We can’t give them Disneyland, but they still want it.
He doesn’t say who “they” are, nor how he knows what “they” want – nor, for that matter, what’s wrong with “Disneyland.” But the most unfortunate thing about his comment is that it perpetuates a simplistic view about the Château Laurier controversy that I and others have been refuting for years: that the only possible options are an addition that is an exact copy, or one that is aggressively incompatible. We badly need to add some shades of grey to this conversation.
Last fall, Prof. Mariana Esponda of Carleton’s Azrieli School of Architecture did just that. She gave her students an assignment: design an addition to the Château Laurier in a contemporary idiom – but make sure it results in an integrated composition with the historic building, rather than fighting with it.
To be clear, the students were not privy to Larco’s program, and it’s likely that the designs would not fulfil their requirements. But what this gives is a much-needed breath of fresh air – a sense of what might be possible if the addition were neither a box nor a copy.
Last December, Heritage Ottawa organized an exhibition of these designs. As the July 10 City Council vote on the addition approaches, it’s worth re-visiting these designs, to remind us all that extraordinary things can happen in the vast gulf between “Disneyland” and “Box”.
Here are several of the renderings. Like them, dislike them, discuss them, argue about them. Above all, consider what might be possible if this whole conversation were not put into such a creative straightjacket.