Design

From train station to Red Chamber on the Rideau: a visual guide to the Senate of Canada Building

If these walls could talk, what tales they would tell!

Opened in 1912 as the city’s central train station, the floors of Union Station felt the boots of the first soldiers to head to Europe in World War I. In 1941, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill decamped here from U.S. President Roosevelt’s luxurious personal train, stopping to confer with his Canadian counterparts about the war effort after meeting with the Americans in the wake of Pearl Harbour. And on a lighter note, the late, great Elvis Presley strode across the platform in 1957 on his way to perform two Ottawa shows.

Photo by Tom Arban Photography

When the tracks were removed in 1966, the lofty building would be refitted for its second life as the Government Conference Centre. The next few decades saw G20 meetings, discussions on the patriation of the constitution, and debates on how the Meech Lake Accord should proceed.

In February, the building launched its third life as the Senate of Canada Building, the home of the Red Chamber for at least the next decade as Centre Block undergoes a full restoration.

The beaux-arts building has undergone a truly magical transformation — one that restores it to its former grandeur while modernizing the spaces within. In a joint venture, Diamond Schmitt Architects and KWC Architects revived the landmark, “weaving in the modern while saving the original elements,” in the words of Martin Davidson of Diamond Schmitt.

Gone are the drop ceilings that hid the former train station’s glorious skylights and vaulted ceilings. After six long years, the grand building looks like her old self again, her major public spaces restored.

Though the renovation has also added committee rooms and parliamentary offices, the original layout of the train station is now easier to visualize — especially with the guidance of the architecture firm’s cross-section rendering.

Rendering courtesy of Diamond Schmitt Architects/KWC Architects

 

Photo by Doublespace Photography

The Senate Chamber was once Union Station’s departure hall. The 10-metre coffered ceiling now allows natural light to flood into the room (the ceiling had been covered when the building was used as a conference centre). Canada boasts 10 native species of maple trees, the leaves of which show up in a repeated motif in the royal red carpet.

Left: with a grand promenade and stairs down to the general waiting room, the building looks much as it did in 1912. Right: a closer look at the landscape images at the entrance to the committee rooms. Photos by Tom Arban Photography

 

The original chandeliers, shown above, were cleaned, restored, and equipped with energy-efficient LED lights. Recent developments in LED technology allowed the architects to maintain the warm light of the original fixtures. Heritage restoration artists worked for months to renew the ceilings, columns, and walls.

Among the highlights of the restored building are the landscape images at the entrance to two of the three committee rooms, which are formed out of a series of large perforated bronze panels. The architects chose images of Newfoundland’s Cape Race and Alberta’s Moraine Lake, then converted them into dot patterns.

Photo by Tom Arban Photography