Backlash erupts over Château Laurier facelift
Plan to update iconic hotel has drawn negative reviews from Ottawa public, mayor
Major changes are in the works for the iconic Fairmont Château Laurier hotel in the national capital, and the public isn’t thrilled.
The elegant, French-style château, within steps of Parliament Hill, is in the early stages of a makeover with plans to add as many as 200 longterm stay suites, and also plans to add an exterior courtyard and 427 underground parking spaces.
Commissioned in the early 1900s by the Grand Trunk Railway, the building has long been designated a national historic site and is now owned by Larco Investments Ltd., while the hotel is managed by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts.
Public consultations will take place at a later date, but since the owners released images depicting the contemporary upgrades — what they call “a modern interpretation of the heritage character of the Château with a vocabulary of Indiana Limestone, glass and copper” — a backlash has already exploded in social media.
The boxy design has drawn comparisons to the Lord of the Rings’ Mordor, a computer game known for its cubed esthetic called Minecraft, and with prisons.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson tweeted that the expansion “falls under the category ‘back to the drawing board!’ ”
In an emailed statement to the Star he wrote that he “would like to see a more cohesive design between the old and new architecture” and he “hopes that the owner of the Chateau Laurier will conduct public consultations with both residents and city councillors before submitting his proposal to the city.”
Even some who initially raved about the project, seem to have turned against it with the public backlash.
In a media release, Ottawa city councillor Mathieu Fleury called it “an exciting project that introduces captivating architectural design to this important site for our capital city, while highlighting its important heritage value and location near the Parliament Buildings, Major’s Hill Park, as well as the ByWard Market.”
But he later backtracked. On Twit- ter he clarified that he was “happy with parking garage demo but from initial community feedback, design needs a rethink.”
Toon Dreessen, president of the Ontario Association of Architects, was more sympathetic to the situation the designers found themselves in, saying that the Château Laurier presents “a challenging place to work.” This is because it is both surrounded by a number of iconic architectural sites and is also “cherished and loved by so many people.”
But he does believe the renovations provide a great opportunity to “correct some things.” Specifically, the current five-storey parking garage.
“There’s no question that demolishing the parking garage is a great idea, especially on this site, and that it has enormous potential to do tremendous good,” Dreessen said.
“The challenge, of course, is that in altering conceptual views of the building and the urban fabric, the building has to recognize how it’s going to impact future generations and collective cultural memory.”
Before shovels hit the ground in the fall of 2017 the Chateau design will have to gain approval from the National Capital Commission and the City of Ottawa.
If everything goes to plan the new suites are expected to be ready in 2020.
There was no immediate word on cost of the project.
The proposed makeover aims to offer “a modern interpretation” of Château Laurier’s heritage character.
The Château Laurier in the 1920s, when it served railway passengers.