Parliament repairs: Ottawa groups looking at how to hide Centre Block construction

Ottawa's tourism agency is calling for Centre Block's iconic facade to be replicated with fabric during a forthcoming decade of repair work — but the people that hold the purse strings say that might not be possible.

At issue: a 'trompe-l'oeil'-style covering for 10 years of Parliament Hill work

Tourists take a selfie on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Jan. 13, 2016. The building will be covered up in scaffolding in 2018 as major repair work is carried out. (CBC Ottawa)

Ottawa's tourism agency is calling for Centre Block's iconic facade to be replicated with fabric during a forthcoming decade-long rehabilitation project  — but the people that hold the purse strings say it might not be possible.

Ottawa Tourism CEO Dick Brown says his group wants a "trompe-l'oeil"-style tarp — an architectural covering that's popular in Europe and was installed on the nearby National Gallery of Canada during its 2013 renovations — to be installed over the Centre Block scaffolding when the much needed repair work begins 2018.

The tarp, or scrim, would reproduce a 3D image of Centre Block over the construction. It would allow visitors to Canada's capital to capture a photo opportunity most non-residents only get once or twice in a lifetime, Brown said.

"It's arguably the most important building in the country," Brown told CBC News on Wednesday.

"I don't know what the cost will be but I think this building deserves an investment appropriate to its stature."

'Deceive the eye'

French for "deceive the eye," trompe-l'oeil coverings have been commonly used in Europe and increasingly in North America to cover up scaffolding during major construction projects at iconic buildings and popular tourist destinations.

A "trompe-l'oeil' wrapping like this one on the U.S. Supreme Court will likely be too pricey, but the National Capital Commission says it's looking at alternatives when construction begins at Centre Block on Parliament Hill in 2018. (Chuck Myers/MCT via Getty Images)

In 2013, the National Gallery of Canada commissioned a Greenland artist to completely cover the windows of the gallery's great hall with 56 panels that, when assembled, resembled a giant iceberg.

A gallery spokesperson told CBC News that installing the iceberg tarp came to two percent of the total cost of the renovations.

Taking a 'thoughtful approach'

The National Capital Commission says it's been discussing the idea of coverings for the Centre Block scaffolding since 2014 but haven't been able to make the costs work out.

"We just haven't find the right thing yet that has a reasonable cost [and] has the effect that we want," said Steve Willis, executive director of capital planning for the NCC.

Willis said the figures he's seen for a pre-printed trompe-l'oeil covering range in the "hundreds of thousands of dollars." The NCC is also looking at other possibilities, including lights projected onto Centre Block's facade during the construction work.

"What we would really like to see is a thoughtful approach that actually uses [Centre Block] as a display to convey information about Canada."

Steve Willis, the National Capital Commission's executive director of capital planning, says they're hoping to take a "thoughtful approach" to the decade-long construction project. (CBC Ottawa)

Public Services and Procurement Canada told CBC in a statement that no decision had been made about how Centre Block's scaffolding would be covered up, but they would be working with the NCC to develop a "protocol for construction work."

"There are many tarping techniques and Public Services and Procurement Canada will assess options that balance financial responsibility, health and safety, security, with the visitor experience and the dignity of Parliament," the agency wrote.

Tarp or no tarp, the rehabilitation will have a noticeable impact on one major Ottawa tourism draw: once the work gets underway two years from now, the annual Canada Day celebrations will be forced off Parliament Hill.

Public Services and Procurement Canada said they have not ruled out a "trompe-l'oeil"-style tarp.


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