Design

24 Sussex: Chris Straka VERT’s vision for PM’s home

In a special series, Tony Atherton goes to some of our city’s top architects and designers to get a sense of what could be done with the home of our prime minister

A bold silhouette defined by an entranceway tower that gives way to a sweeping roof and a projection over the Ottawa River is intended to become an instant icon, says designer Chris Straka.

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Straka and team wanted to create an instant icon that would be a touchstone for Canadians. A tower facing Sussex Drive rises above the entrance, with main living spaces to the west

Straka says his team wanted a structure distinctive enough that almost anyone could draw a sketch if asked, a design “that would endure in the mind but also endure over time.”

The entranceway tower nudges up to Sussex Drive, and visitors drive under the tower to enter a long, wide corridor off which are massive formal entertaining spaces under a curvilinear roof. A floor above the central corridor would contain personal space for the prime minister and his or her family. The entrance corridor proceeds to a ramped exhibition hall projecting over the river below grade.

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The entrance hall continues down a level to end in a small lounge projecting from the cliffside over the river. The tower is situated to face the entrance of Rideau Hall

Straka’s firm, VERT plan.design.build, is devoted to building extremely energy-efficient “passive-design” homes, but he admits that the projection over the river, with five sides exposed to the elements, is a passive-home no-no. The design makes up for energy loss with a broad south-facing slope from the tower that could be used for solar generation, he says.

Straka’s background in environmental design allows him to build homes up to 5,600 square feet, he says. To follow through on this 15,000-square-foot behemoth, he’d have to partner with an architect.

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COMPENDIUM

Living Space: Up to 15,000 square feet.

Cost: $15 million to $20 million, before landscaping finishings and special security features.

Materials: Glue-laminated timber for rafters, beams, and columns; stone (partially repurposed from existing home) as a veneer on some walls; vegetated roof above formal entertaining area; landscaping representing regional ecologies.

Environment/Energy Efficiency: Roof-wall with surface area great enough for discreet photovoltaic generation system, air-source heat-pump technology, high-efficiency heat-recovery ventilation system, and restrained use of glazing.