Interiors Awards 2017: Restoration + New Interior

The new public lobby features a grand spiral stair as well as a “green” vegetative wall. All images courtesy Doublespace.

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Wellington Building Restoration
Designer: NORR and EVOQ Architecture
Client: Public Services and Procurement Canada
Location: Ottawa, Canada

“The restoration of this Beaux-Arts structure illustrates the aspects of design that we strive to achieve: timelessness, relevance, and quality. Both the original and new interiors communicate a sense of grandeur and intricacy.” —Jury

For decades after its construction in the 1920s, the 180 Wellington building provided the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (MetLife) with handsome Beaux-Arts quarters just a few hundred yards from the center of Canada’s federal government in Ottawa, Ontario. Hampered by a modernist 1959 addition and modifications, the complex was somewhat less impressive by the time the Canadian government acquired it in 1973. With a few more decades of use as regular government offices plus the subsequent aging of its building systems, the property had become a diminished asset.

The Canadian government, as part of a comprehensive strategy to also update the nearby Parliament Buildings on Parliament Hill, undertook an extensive renovation of 180 Wellington. NORR, with offices in Toronto and Ottawa, was the prime architect, and Montrealbased EVOQ Architecture was the heritage consulting architect on this project to breathe new life into the 509,000-square-foot structure. The scope for 180 Wellington included exterior renovations and the modernization of interior spaces and systems to accommodate office suites for 70 members of Parliament (MP), committee rooms, a staff cafeteria, and a library. The interior features a new central multilevel atrium with a curving staircase.

Despite its commercial provenance, “This [building] is part of the core of democratic buildings in Canada,” explains Public Works and Government Services Canada Director Sylvain Lepage. The architects took cues from the original structure for the renovations and revitalized interiors. “We used the latent Beaux-Arts organization in the structure,” says David Clusiau, vice president, architectural design at NORR.

The building’s two existing entrances were well suited to modern programmatic needs. The 1920s Beaux-Arts entry sequence, now specifically for MPs, has been restored to its original appearance with the addition of enhanced security. This entrance includes the restoration of notable colored glass tile murals. “[They’re] one of a kind in Canada,” says Eric Stein, an associate at EVOQ Architecture. “They depict vignettes of MetLife as a protecting warrior mother.”

On the opposite side of the building, the Sparks Street modernist entrance has been considerably upgraded for use by the public. A new lobby reuses green verde marble from the 1959 building—one of the few explicit references to the midcentury interventions—and is augmented by stone that matches the 1920s structure. A “green” vegetative wall is a focal point in the public space. “[The wall] provides a welcoming environment, cleans the air, and absorbs noise, too,” Lepage says.

The original building’s fourth floor had taller ceilings than the floors below, and the designers took advantage by placing committee rooms with ceiling-mounted technical equipment for broadcasting on this top level. Additional committee rooms are located on the third floor. Since most members of the public visiting the building are attending hearings, the public spaces were vertically zoned on the first, third, and fourth floors and can be accessed by elevators, escalators, and the new grand spiral stair.

Directly above the three-story public atrium is a more private space—a skylit double-height satellite of the Library of Parliament, with access restricted to MPs and their staff. To establish a contrast with the elegant acoustical wood panels installed on the lower levels, the designers used copper recycled from the roof of the original building to create a lively yet disciplined wall panel system. Sculptural copper shells are placed in front of a perforated copper acoustic wall backing. “[The copper panels] show 80 years of patina,” Clusiau explains. “We folded the material to make them sculptural.”

Clusiau adds, “You always want your MP to be at the top of their game. Architecture can reinforce that idea.” Although built as a commercial structure, 180 Wellington has proved resilient in the hands of an able design and renovation team. By embracing its heritage qualities, and carefully inserting more contemporary variations on the theme, the designers created a worthy government building for the 21st century.

who: Architect, engineer, and interior designer: NORR. Heritage consulting architect: EVOQ Architecture. NORR project team: Silvio Baldassarra; David Clusiau; Paul Dolan; Ihor Hrytskiv; Jonathan Hughes; Andrew Schmidt; Lizanne Dubien; Keith Macdonald; Alex Birtwistle. EVOQ project team: Julia Gersovitz; Greg Manley; Neil McNulty; Eric Stein. Contractor: EllisDon Acoustician: Swallow Acoustic Consultant.
what: Wallcoverings: Maharam. Laminate: Nevamar; Wilsonart; Octopus. Walls: La Monte; Mometal Structures; Continental Cabinets. Flooring: Johnsonite. Carpet/carpet tile: Milliken; Bentley; Shaw Contract; Karastan. Ceilings: Continental Cabinets; BASWA. Lighting: WSA Ottawa; Intense Lighting; A Light; Luminpulse; Moda Light. Hardware/doors: Upper Canada. Architectural glass/glazing: EllisDon. Decorative glass panels/ partitions: Mometal Structures. Window treatments: Sun Project. Seating: Krug; Davidson Furniture; Continental Cabinets. Architectural/custom woodworking: Continental Cabinets. Planters: Nedlaw Living Walls.