General Abstract

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.

Learning Objectives:

Chris Vopni, P. Eng.

John G. Cooke & Associates Ltd.

Chris is an associate at John G. Cooke & Associates Ltd (JCAL). He completed his Engineering studies at the University of Ottawa, graduating with a Bachelor in Applied Science. Chris works as Project Engineer with his focus on the conservation and upgrade of existing Heritage Buildings. Chris has been involved in a range of projects from small scale localized interventions to much larger scale conservation projects including the West Block Rehabilitation Project in Ottawa and the Masonry Conservation at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto.


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Cristina Ureche-Trifu, M. Arch., M.A., Ph.D. Student

Conservation Architect
Robertson Martin Architects

Cristina is an architect with Robertson Martin Architects in Ottawa, On. In addition to her architectural training, Cristina also holds an M.A. in heritage conservation from Carleton University and is currently working on her Ph.D. Combining architectural practice with her academic career, her interests range from stone masonry, craftsmanship and materials conservation to studying the intersection between construction and conservation and the way in which conservation principles and theories get transformed during the actual project implementation.


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David G. Woodcock, FAIA, FSA, FAPT

Professor Emeritus of Architecture & Director Emeritus, Center for Heritage Conservation
Texas A&M University

David Woodcock grew up near Manchester, England and received professional qualifications in Architecture and in Town and Country Planning from the University of Manchester. Following a Fulbright Grant to teach at the A&M College of Texas in 1962, he returned to England in 1966 to teach and practice in Canterbury. He returned to Texas A&M University in 1970, teaching urban design and architecture and developing cross-disciplinary graduate education in historic preservation, based in a university-wide research, teaching and outreach unit. His research focused on building documentation and analysis and heritage education. He served as APT President in 2000-2001.


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2 - A New Lease on Life for the Canada Four Corners Building

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