'No redeeming qualities': Château Laurier feedback blasts proposed glass addition

Jarring, distracting, but also respectful — those are just a few of the ways people are describing a proposed modern glass addition to the historic Fairmont Château Laurier, according to a report published Thursday by the City of Ottawa.

Addition called jarring and distracting — but a small minority say it's respectful

View from Wellington Street Bridge. (Larco Investments LTD)

Jarring. Box-like. A post-modern disaster. But also: respectful?

Those are just a few of the ways people are describing a proposed glass-and-limestone addition to the historic Fairmont Château Laurier, according to public feedback released this week by the City of Ottawa.

The As We Heard It report — which arises out of legally mandated public consultations that began in February — offers a small sample of the hundreds of opinions people shared with the city between mid-February and mid-March about the controversial expansion.

The architects and owners of the 105-year-old hotel near Parliament Hill first put forward drawings of the large structure they wanted to attach to the building in September 2016, sparking fierce online backlash.

That was followed by a new set of renderings two months later, which depicted a slightly smaller addition — but with few other readily discernible differences.

This architectural rendering gives an idea of how the proposed glass addition to the Château Laurier hotel would appear at night. (Larco Investments LTD)

According to Thursday's report, 1,759 people filled out the city's online feedback form, with the majority — 1,417 — of those responses coming from Ottawa. Of the non-Ottawa respondents, 45 said they were from Gatineau, while the remainder were from elsewhere in North America.

But regardless of where they were writing from, people did not hold back on expressing their disdain.

Like a Travelodge 'rear-ended a castle'

The majority of comments were critical — and colourful, too:

  • "Either the addition should look like it's part of the original building, or it should look completely different. This doesn't go far enough in either direction."
  • "The huge blocks of glass and stone stand in jarring contrast to the beautiful rows of delicate windows, the turreted roof and the minarets of the original building." 
  • "It is too box-like. It doesn't feel fairy-tale-like enough. The angles are too stark."
  • "You've taken a block of glass that doesn't tie into the original building, and super-glued it on the side." 
  • "I'm happy to see a modern addition, but embrace the modernity and do something daring that will make the old world beauty of the Château stand out."
  • "It's a post-modernist mess surrounded by stately neo-Gothic architecture. It clashes with the surrounding buildings."
  • "It looks like a Travelodge has rear-ended a castle."
  • "This is by far the worst design I have ever seen in mating the contemporary to the historic and traditional. It should be taken out to a field somewhere in northern Saskatchewan and retrofitted as a grain silo."
  • "The architecture of the addition is terrible. It blocks key vistas and distracts from the original building. It has no redeeming qualities."
  • "Fire the architect and start over."

Not all of the comments panned the expansion, however.

One person said that they "love the contrast" between the original building and the modern addition, while another suggested the proposed addition would attract tourists.

At least two people also said the glass addition was "respectful" of its surroundings and the legacy of the former railway hotel, which was declared a national historic site in 1980.

One person suggested that the proposed Château Laurier addition be taken to Saskatchewan and 'retrofitted as a grain silo.' (Larco Investments (left), Trevor Pritchard/CBC (right))

Not a condo

The positive comments, however, were vastly outnumbered by negative ones.

So many people, in fact, said the new design looked like a condominium that the City of Ottawa went out of its way to point out that no, that's not what's being built.

"It will be an extension of the existing hotel and will contain units for guests intending longer stays. These units will be larger and will include facilities like kitchens and separate bedrooms that the hotel's current rooms do not have," the city said in the preface to Thursday's report.

The land use is not changing; the building will remain a hotel.- City of Ottawa

"The land use is not changing; the building will remain a hotel."

The addition is slated to include 218 long-stay hotel units, five levels of underground parking — including 385 stalls accessible from Mackenzie Avenue — and an interior plaza. It also includes a request to remove the hotel's existing parking structure, which was added to the north side in 1960.

Now, the plan is for city staff to review "all public and technical comments" and provide feedback to Vancouver-based Larco Investments, which owns the hotel.

A five-person heritage working group made up of architects, landscape architects and a representative of Heritage Ottawa has also been providing advice to Larco, the city, and the National Capital Commission.

In a statement on their website, Larco says they're already in the process of "refining the building proposal" and that a revised submission will be made to both the city and the NCC.

The city says another public meeting on the project, once the new plans are filed, is not out of the question.