2 - A New Lease on Life for the Canada Four Corners Building
Monday, September 24
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: BNCC- 101AH
This paper examines efforts made to save one of the iconic buildings of downtown Ottawa. Sitting at the corner of Sparks and Metcalfe Streets, across the street from Parliament Hill, the Canada Four Corners building was built c. 1870-71 in the Second Empire style. Originally called the Telegraph Building, it consisted of three storeys of roughly dressed Nepean sandstone, smoothly dressed Berea sandstone surrounds and a slate-covered mansard roof. Heavily modified around 1916, the rusticated stone masonry of the ground floor was removed to make room for five large copper-clad storefront windows and the South-East corner was cut back to create a more welcoming entrance. Over the years, the roof suffered through a couple of fires and alterations, including the introduction of an unsympathetic vertical mansard roof in the 1960s. Delayed maintenance combined with these “traumatic” changes had resulted in a building that was seemingly nearing the end of its useful life. A previous campaign of repairs was abandoned when it was discovered that the masonry was in more severe condition than expected and temporary overhead protection was installed. In early 2015, Robertson Martin Architects, John G. Cooke and Associates and a wider team of heritage specialists were engaged by Public Services and Procurement Canada to undertake a project to rehabilitate the building envelope.
Initial investigations by our team revealed that the condition of the East wall was much worse than initially believed, with full separation between the inner and outer masonry wythes. As the project advanced, numerous underlying issues were exposed and the scope of the project grew to include major work throughout the entire building. Further exploration during the early construction phase revealed severe damage to the interior masonry walls, largely due to poorly executed previous interventions. The sensitive rehabilitation work was further complicated by a nearby condo project where extensive rock blasting was underway to prepare for below grade parking.
This paper discusses efforts made to save the building and the challenges of striving to do so following a minimum intervention approach. As will be seen, sometimes “minimum” represents a significant level of intervention. The paper will also touch on the importance of conducting investigations early in the project, the dangers of making assumptions regarding previous repairs and the importance of treating the building as a whole when performing any sort of interventions. It is our team’s belief that many of the issues that this project strove to address were caused by the dramatic changes the building went through during the first half of its life. Attempting to address these issues, maintaining elements which have in time become character defining elements of their own, and following a minimum intervention approach, was a fine line to walk.
- Understand the importance of strategic investigations to reveal hidden conditions and the risks associated with making assumptions about the state of building based on limited information.
- Understand the challenges associated with correcting flaws in the original construction or subsequent building alterations while maintaining elements which have become character elements in their own right.
- Understanding the cost of carrying out minimum intervention with respect to time, money and resources.
- Understand the impacts of deferred maintenance and interventions undertaken without considering the building as a whole.