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Cornerstones – Canada’s Parliament buildings refurbishment

Cornerstones

by Brian Burton

Canada’s Parliament buildings which are currently undergoing an extensive refurbishment in Ottawa, can help commercial real estate (CRE) professionals learn a great deal. CRE professionals can benefit from knowing more about construction of the original buildings and the useful information that is emerging as a result of the current renovation project as well.

[This ambitious remediation is expected to take almost 10 years to complete and illustrates many important aspects involved in undertaking successful "state-of-the-art" modern construction projects.]

Original Parliament Buildings

George Brown, told Sir John A. McDonald shortly after he toured the original construction site in 1864, “Nothing sir, can approach them in London, Paris or Washington” adding that the buildings were merely “500 years ahead of their time”.

The Parliament Buildings in Ottawa are shown here before the 1916 fire.

Most experts agree Brown was probably correct; the structures were far, far in advance of their time. The buildings have managed to serve the purposes of 42 elected governments – and in light of the on-going 10 year $20M upgrade, are likely continue to do so.

The buildings were considered ahead of their time even though they were constructed using locally available timber and stone, without the use of mechanized equipment, computers, building codes or even paved roads for that matter. The structures contained no HVAC equipment, no fire alarms, no provisions for security,1 operator-assisted elevator, and a single telephone.

In spite of these seemingly functional limitations the buildings have proven to be remarkably durable, sustainable – and successful. They have served their functions very well over time and have proven to be extremely resilient to Canada’s extreme environmental and climate conditions.

How is it then, you may be asking yourself, that our Parliament buildings came to be considered so advanced;

  • The buildings and amenities were custom “tailored” to occupant requirements and expectations.
  • The construction documentation and quality control on-site, in particular the specifications, were well- defined, precise and uncompromising.
  • The standards for materials, material procurement and workmanship as well as general attention to detail and execution were very specific and there was an exceptional collaborative effort between construction professionals on site.
  • The use of a full-time “Clerk of the Works” promoted continuity, consistent quality control and effective sequencing on-site.

Current Parliamentary Remediation

This photograph shows green slate louvers shown within the window openings, which matched the buildings original roof. Also, visible: Berea, (buff sandstone), used for dressed and carved details including quoins, jambs, sills, arches, grotesques and coping stones. Façade also incorporated Nepean, variegated buff sandstone used for rubble stone, as well as Potsdam, red sandstone, found in relieving arches over windows and polygonal work. Photo courtesy RJW-Gem Campbell Stonemasons Inc.

CRE professionals can also learn a great deal from the on-going and extensive remediation of the Parliament buildings, which is considered one of Canada’s most ambitious construction initiatives.

Similar to the original construction the remediation makes use of locally available materials and manpower.

However – instead of natural stone and timber, the current upgrade utilizes custom-made steel components, triple glazed high-efficiency glazing and state-of-the-art HVAC equipment.

Photograph courtesy Walters Group

Shown in this photograph is a fabricated example of a computer-generated steel branch connection, ready to install that was generated from a 3-D digital model, sent to the architect for review and fabricated to spec. [This particular connection detail will be exposed to view however the component will be painted after installation.

The remediation makes extensive use of computerized design and simulation, the latest techniques in remediation techniques and several new, innovative construction technologies.

In part the project clearly demonstrates;

1.  The importance of planning and proper sequencing to reduce costs and improve quality.

2.  How computerized design and simulation techniques can optimize the use of available space.

3.  The benefits of utilizing new and innovative technology; in particular the use of hand-held laser powered units* to clean and remediate that the building façade.

[*Industrial laser cleaning technologies have been successfully employed by the aerospace industry in the past and utilize pulses of high-energy light to remove residual façade stains or discoloration. Overcoming the typical limitations of conventional cleaning methods the benefits include mobility, and localized selectivity,. The process is also more environmentally friendly; producing very little waste and is less disruptive on-site activities.]

Shown in this photograph one of the 300 distinctive gargoyles on Parliament Hill enjoys a well-deserved facelift and hand cleaning after over a century in service; Typically, these protruding carved stones, help direct or divert water away from the buildings natural stone façade. Photograph courtesy of AFGM Architects

The overall remediation plan involves balancing the complex logistics involved in ensuring the essential functional requirements for government; now and in the future. Seismic upgrades, future-proofing, improved accessibility, media facilities, heritage preservation and enhanced security are just a few the ambitious projects other primary objectives.

Conclusion

When Members of Parliament begin thumping on their desks during the Opening Session of Parliament next year the House of Commons will be very different space than it was 150 years ago.

The sound will reverberate off the restored West Block façade enclosed by a spectacular steel and glass pavilion covering the space that was once the outdoor courtyard of the West Block.

This new structure along with 3 underground levels of a new Visitors Centre will serve as an interim home for the HOC while the Centre Block is rehabilitated over the next 5 to 7 years. [Both of these design features are a result of the efforts to optimize the use of existing space. When completed, the House of Commons and other facilities will be moved to the nearby Centre Block]

In addition the carefully restored natural stone façade cleaned and refurbished using laser technology, will be clearly visible from the Viewer’s Gallery enclosed by the new triple-glazed, energy-efficient glass and steel roof overhead.

About the author; Brian is a Ottawa based construction writer and writes a regular column for Monster Commercial Real Estate. You can contact Brian at

Blueblade49@gmail.com

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