The landmark structure overlooking the historic Rideau Canal was designed by Ritchard Brisbin, BArch/81, above, a principal with BBB Architects (Ottawa, Toronto, New York City). With its undulating glass surface, it’s been described as anything from a giant disco ball to a glass spaceshipóno matter your perspective, you’ll react to the spectacular new Ottawa Convention Centre
What was the biggest challenge in designing the Ottawa Convention Centre?
Resistance to change. We normally try to reconcile a building with its context, but in this instance, we couldn’t find much meritorious in our neighbours. And the building had huge obligations to redefine the convention centre’s brand and its profile on the canal. Some authorities had reticence about the modernity of the building. We felt that the modernity wouldn’t clash with the silhouette of Parliament (Hill) or the Ch‚teau (Laurier) but actually make their language even more legible.
Was there a time during construction when you thought, This is not what I envisaged?
When the metal support lattice for the glass was going up, (it) was so prevalent that I thought we had created a giant golf ball. Fortunately, as the glazing went on, that disappeared.
What do you hope convention-goers will take away from the OCC?
We want the delegate experience to be about connecting with Ottawa. Hopefully the building provides indelible panoramas of our city and tells stories about our history with its (visual) references to logging, canal barges, tulips and so on.
Does the OCC mark a new era in Ottawa architecture?
I don’t think soóor not in such a linear fashion. It does change the way the world sees Ottawa a little bit and the way we see ourselves. Hopefully, when that happens, we start to be more aware of the value and impact of good design and, reciprocally, that of bad design.
What is your favourite building in Ottawa?
Arthur Erickson’s Bank of Canada. It is truly a study in understatement. Nearly 40 years after completion, it is still fresh and modern, delicate in its detailing with a chamfered roofline, patinated copper and green slate.
If you were addressing a class of graduating architects, what would your message be?
To ensure that they are passionate about their chosen profession. If you enter into this business for money or celebrity, the odds are against you. If you love the idea of qualitatively changing the cities you work in, you’ll never begrudge your drive into work each morning.