Ottawa architect argues for national architecture policy

While the Quebec Order of Architects is pushing for an architecture policy for its own province, Ottawa's Toon Dreessen argues the federal government should set guidelines of its own.

'What does the built environment say about us as people?'

The Canadian War Museum is a 'spectacular building,' according to Ottawa architect Toon Dreessen. But he says that too often, price dictates what gets built, and a national architecture policy is needed to promote more great buildings. (

With Quebec's order of architects pushing for a provincial architecture policy, an Ottawa architect is calling on the federal government to set goals for the whole country.

"It's not so much just about ugly buildings, but really about what does the built environment say about us as a people?" Toon Dreessen told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning

The City of Gatineau is one of dozens of municipalities lining up to support the push for a policy in Quebec, but Dreessen said the landscape on Ottawa's side of the river could also benefit from a framework. He cited as an example the acrimonious debate about the site of the Ottawa Hospital's new Civic campus.

"A national architecture policy that creates a framework for siting, for design, might have made that process much shorter," said Dreessen. "We'd have policy objectives that we could test our designs against."

While Quebec's order of architects is consulting with the Quebec government about a provincial architecture policy, Dreessen says a national policy is also needed. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

Policy could lead to better buildings, architect argues

Better quality buildings could be another result, Dreessen argued, because government decisions about new public buildings are too driven by price. Yet those cost-driven decisions don't properly consider the long-term benefits of spending, he said, despite the success stories of past investments. 

"We never really debate the cost of something like the National Arts Centre, or Parliament buildings, or some of our greatest architectural monuments," Dreessen said. "Is anyone debating the cost of the [Canadian] War Museum? No, it's an absolutely spectacular piece of Canadian architecture ... so I think that that is something that has had a lasting impact. And every dollar spent is worth it."

The Canadian War Museum was designed by Raymond Moriyama, a Canadian architect, and Dreessen made the case for a national policy that gives preference to Canadian architects for major public projects. He called Antoine Predock, the architect of Winnipeg's Canadian Museum For Human Rights, "brilliant," but questioned the decision to hire outside Canada.

"I absolutely love his work, but why did we go to a New Mexico architect to design the Canadian Museum of Human Rights?" Dreessen asked, suggesting support for Canadian architects is as crucial to culture as support for Canadian musicians or theatre artists.

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning