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.

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