Design

24 Sussex: Barry Hobin’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 dramatic cliff above the Ottawa River amid landscaping that evokes the geography of Canada would inspire Canadians and impress foreign visitors, says celebrated Ottawa architect Barry Hobin.

Seeking to move “beyond style,” the design will reference the earliest forms of Canadian architecture, says Hobin, including the lodges of West Coast Aboriginals and the post-and-beam barns of European settlers.

The ground floor entrance leads into a “grand welcoming hall” that projects out over the river a little like a Grand Canyon Skywalk, says Hobin. “It will take your breath away.”

A grand entrance hall of timber and glass projects over the Ottawa River. “It will take your breath away,” says Hobin.
A grand entrance hall of timber and glass projects over the Ottawa River. “It will take your breath away,” says Hobin.

Formal entertaining and dining spaces and the service spaces they require are one level down along the bluff but will still be oriented to take in Parliament Hill and the view of the river. The personal space of the prime minister’s family is an integrated wing, attached to the main space but with a separate entrance.

Hobin’s dramatic vision features formal gardens and wild landscape surrounding the ground-level grand hall above a main living space carved into the cliff face on a lower level.
Hobin’s dramatic vision features formal gardens and wild landscape surrounding the ground-level grand hall above a main living space carved into the cliff face on a lower level.

The design is a co-operative effort of a number of architects in Barry J. Hobin and Associates Architects, which has previously designed official residences for diplomats from Iran and Australia.

Landscape is important to Hobin’s design, including this reflecting pool set in the stone foundations of the former residence. Ten tall masts represent the former prime ministers who served the nation while living here
Landscape is important to Hobin’s design, including this reflecting pool set in the stone foundations of the former residence. Ten tall masts represent the former prime ministers who served the nation while living here

Hobin wants to open up views to the house and, ideally, allow some access to the grounds to engage Canadians in the design. The current residence is frustrating, he says, because “it has no presence whatsoever and obscures one of the most unbelievable views in the city.”

IN HOBBIN’S OWN WORDS

“The Prime Minister’s residence is more than a house with a robust security system. It is first a symbol of Canada, its landscapes, its history and values. Secondly, it is a sophisticated reception centre where the PM can entertain delegations large and small, heads of state, diplomats, national leaders and citizens alike. Lastly, it is a private residence for the family of the Prime Minister. This concept embraces all three of these functions within a net-zero carbon footprint.

“The residence, with its expansive view of the river and minimal architectural expression is wedged into the cliff face below what is primarily a national park. This park is organized around the footprint of the former residence, the angular view line to the Peace Tower, and the projection into the site of MacKay Street as the point of entry. As with the nation, the entry path leads visitors along a central waterway passing through a sculpture garden that celebrates both Canada’s history and its varied landscape.

“Where the path intersects with the Peace Tower axis, it turns to cross the waterway and arrives at the entrance pavilion. Here, immediately to the north, a reflecting pool is set in the stone foundations of the former residence with ten tall masts standing on the Peace Tower axis. Each mast represents a former Prime Minister who served the nation while living in this place

“The slender form of the glass and timber entrance pavilion stands alone reaching out to draw the visitor’s eye to the Canadian landscape beyond. Inside, guests pass through an elegantly sculpted frame of twisting wood set against a richly textured stone wall to the official residence below. The house is simply set into the landscape with little outward architectural form to signify traditional trappings of power. Together these elements stand to celebrate the land and history that is Canada.”

COMPENDIUM

Cost: $9 million to $10 million, not including interior finishings and special security features.

Living Space: 10,000 square feet.

Materials: “The very best of what we have to offer from our natural elements,” says Hobin. Newfoundland black slate, Ontario stone, and West Coast fir.

Environment: The house will meet Passive House standards with smart systems and passive overactive tech-nologies, including earth tubes, controlled ventilation, and integration of plaza water feature.

For more of Barry Hobin’s designs for 24 Sussex, see his website, here.