Ottawa's LeBreton Flats Redevelopment

Discussion in 'Buildings, Architecture & Infrastructure' started by wyliepoon, Sep 30, 2005.

  1. wyliepoon

    wyliepoon Guest

    Ottawa's version of the Regent Park redevelopment?

    From Canadian Architect:

    Link to article

    Flats on the Flats

    The Lands Adjacent to Canada's New War Museum Will Be Redeveloped Into Dwelling Units That Reinterpret the Historic Duality of the Site.

    By Janine Debanne

    In the spring, ground will be broken for the first phase of construction of the LeBreton Flats redevelopment project, 860 dwelling units on 75 acres to the west of Parliament Hill. The site, a renegade egg-shaped landmass at the foot of a limestone cliff, extends northward into the Ottawa River. Until recently, it housed a campground, was used for snow storage, and has also hosted a variety of functions like festivals, protests, and in 1984, a papal mass.

    LeBreton Flats' textured built fabric comprised of row houses, small industrial buildings and rail yards was razed between 1962 and 1965 following expropriations, to make room for "Pentagon North," an elaborate federal compound that was never built. 2,800 people were relocated to other parts of the city in the process. Phil Jenkins' An Acre of Time tells the story of the Flats vividly.1

    Except for a residential development south of Albert Street built in the late 1970s, the National Capital Commission (NCC) was unsuccessful at negotiating an agreement about what to do on the newly cleared 165 acres. Yves Gosselin, who directed the LeBreton project at the NCC from 1989 to 1996, managed to get the concerned parties--namely the Federal Government, the City of Ottawa, the Regional Municipality, and the public--to agree on a vision that resurrected the previous street grid, reweaving the fabric with a medium-density mixed-use neighbourhood and ceremonial and residential zones in place of the exclusively governmental compound initially proposed.2 In subsequent years, NCC Property Development Director Peter McCourt oversaw work on a detailed master plan and guideline document. In keeping with the preoccupation to make LeBreton more stately that caused it to be razed in the first place, the master plan strongly emphasized view corridors toward Parliament and the notion of a "gateway to the capital core." Guided by "new urbanism," the guidelines stated their aim of creating a homogeneous, pedestrian-oriented, densely implanted "family of buildings" engaged with the street. Their virtue lay in the density and urban qualities proposed.

    The recent decision to locate a new building for the Canadian War Museum on LeBreton Flats made the rebuilding of a community there once again plausible. The process of implementing extensive and costly soil decontamination along with building new infrastructure to support the new museum will now be extended to support a new housing district for the area.3

    In 2004, the NCC invited developer-architect teams to submit letters of interest. The project's complexities were so great that after the NCC selected three finalists from a list of six submissions, only one team ultimately submitted a proposal. The collaborative submission by Montreal firms of Dan S. Hanganu Architects and Daoust Lestage Inc. with Claridge Homes Corporation of Ottawa, provided the first glimpses of domestic life to occur on the Flats in more than 40 years.

    The master plan reiterates the site's historical duality (humble in its worker vocation, yet noble in geographic position), dividing LeBreton into two distinct domains circumscribed by their respective topographical edges and a major six-lane axial boulevard. The northern sector, adjacent to the river, is a federal zone with public institutions and parks. The southern sector comprises a municipal zone for residential and commercial use. Here, the plan introduces to Ottawa the perimeter block courtyard formation of four to six storeys supplemented with elevated towers that rise an additional seven storeys. NCC guidelines specify such critical architectural controls as building volumes, setbacks, build-to lines, heights and materials. These deliberate restrictions--the NCC was determined that the process yield a buildable project--meant less innovation of site plan and apartment layouts. Dan Hanganu states that "it would have been preferable to develop the housing and master plan simultaneously." This way, he explains, exterior space and landscape and the question of habitat--"poetry, spatial proportion, transparency, cross ventilation, orientation, and the manipulation of the square inch"--could have driven the project.

    LeBreton Flats is a compromise, but one with many virtues. The Hanganu-Daoust Lestage collaborative scheme elegantly responds to the NCC's mandate and to the site's astounding topography. Worked out with Montreal panache, the scheme proposes a delicate play of transparency and solidity with more glass towards the green edges, and more masonry facing the streets. What is more, the scheme picks up on all the cues to public space built into the master plan, and expands upon them. Block 1, the easternmost cluster of dwellings, is a case in point. With 278 units, Block 1 declares its identity as a reconciliatory building asked to define a strong street edge (Lett Street) while also addressing the softer edge of the tailrace and forested ravine running along its eastern flank. The architects' rendition of Block 1 reverses the NCC master plan by orienting the open edge of the perimeter block courtyard formation towards the park. The plan also widens this opening by eliminating ten units, to allow the public realm to extend slightly further into the Flats' interior. Portes-cochere pierce the volumes so that courtyards can be glimpsed from the streets and bicycle paths. The developers' choice to favour smaller apartments between 600 and 1,000 square feet in combination with the predetermined 20-metre-wide footprints have placed constraints on design possibilities for the units, explains Tom Schweitzer of Hanganu Architects. Despite this, Block 1 includes a number of interesting experiments in types and mixes of types. Two-storey units are proposed on the ground floor with double-loaded corridor apartments on the third through sixth floors.

    The sensitivity of the designers is made evident in the site plan, which treats the landscape as an integral part of the scheme and proposes a dramatic ground-lighting pattern and a necklace of public art used to imbue a public character to the site. Renee Daoust of Daoust Lestage Inc., describes how she and her design team were struck by the site's stratified topography and the presence of stone buildings around the site; industrial buildings like the Fleet Street pumping station (1888 ) still pumps water up the escarpment to the city of Ottawa to this day, and contrasts with the formality of the Parliament buildings. The architects interpreted the site as a game of tug-of-war between "mineral" and "vegetal" surfaces. The mineral surfaces are alternately the dominant material, consolidating into larger surfaces for the public areas (Canal Square, Pooley's Bridge) or the receding material; in the semi-private courtyards and in the forested public park zones, indigenous plantings are given pre-eminence. Referencing LeBreton's pre-industrial memory, the scheme requires the landscape narrative to handle transitions between residential and public areas.

    Although it's fair to ask whether a public park might not have been the only appropriate gesture given how the Flats made its way into the public domain, Ottawa undoubtedly needs well-considered urban residential neighbourhoods. The question becomes whether the new development can retain a public character that appropriately marks the site's past significance and its public nature in the present, or will it simply install itself into the city as a well-behaved upscale insular district, of concern only to those who live there?

    Past occupants like Baker and Dubinsky Barrels and Drums, Ottawa Boiler and Steel Works, or Duke's Tavern will not find a place in this genteel environment. But the sensitively designed compact settlement with its considered private, semi-public and public gardens, provides a worthy commemoration of the lost neighbourhood in that it constitutes an attempt to create a responsible model for urban living at a time when no noticeable curtailment of suburban expansion is anywhere to be seen in this city. The best commemoration would be that LeBreton Flats, with its housing, neighbouring park and museum (and another institution in the future), become a vital district in its own right. But under economic pressures (the affordable housing component, larger units for families, and the landscape scheme are all vulnerable to simplifications and cutbacks) will it, in the end, provide the template for a full urban life? Much now is left in the hands of the developers, their degree of commitment to the quality of the project's execution, and to the NCC's vigilant monitoring. If this first phase is realized in accordance with the NCC plan as refined by Hanganu-Daoust Lestage, the Flats could become a much-needed role model for urban development in Ottawa. The NCC might then be more open to the kinds of innovations that emerge from a less directive, and indeed more visionary approach in the project's subsequent phases.

    Janine Debanne is Associate Professor at the Carleton University School of Architecture.

    The Proposed Site Plan With Block 1 Highlighted in Red.

    The Proposed First Stages of Residential Redevelopment for Lebreton Flats.

    The Proposed Massing Indicates the Setbacks for the Residential Towers and Illustrates the Material Palette and Treatment of the Residences at Ground Level.

  2. Of any urban redevelopment I have seen in Canada, Lebreton Flats sets the standard. The onyl issue I can say that I have with it is with the southern boundries next to the existing development. The existing development is classic suburban boulevard with its back turned to it so I was hoping they might build directly against it and reroute the road, but I guess not.

    Its hard to tell from the site plan but it does look they have burired the Transitway and LRT Line through the area as well. I think the LRT would have been ok, even maybe added a little urban flair to the area, but putting buses underground is certainly an improvment for the plan.

    Having watched the site preperation, from the realigning of the Parkway, putting in sewers and utilities, road upgrades, and seeing most of the War Museum being built I think that with the detail in planning being put into this site that this should turn out incredibley well. Of course it doesnt hurt that they have NCC money helping the project, but even without that extra cash, any city in Canada looking at brownfield redevelopment should really look at this plan carefully. This project is an excellent example of Canadian reurbanism and will probably do a lot to define how future infill and brownfield projects are dealt with in this country.
  3. ganjavih

    ganjavih Guest

    Physically, it looks great. Now, if it has decent retail at street level, it'll be perfect.
  4. spmarshall

    spmarshall Guest

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the plan to slowly replace many of the buses through the core with standard light rail?

    The plans look really good. I'd say that this is more like a mini-model for what the Portlands should be than a version of Regent Park redevelopment.

    If the O-Train is ever extended across the river, the area will be a very important transit node.
  5. Whether it will actually replace buses I am not sure. I know that they want to be able to reduce the buses greatly, but since some of the future LRT lines are not just going to be put down on the current Transitway, but in different ROW's, I dont think the Transitway will ever really see a decrease in buses. When you factor in express buses, rural buses, the 95, 97, and other busy lines such as the 86, and 87 there is no way all these could have their services replecated by LRT. I think that there will be a slight reduction in buses that are in the core, but when you factor in growing transit rideship and the growth rate of the region, I would think the best they could aim for is to keep the existing volume of buses at its current level.

    There were discussions of Bayview (currently the last stop on the O-Train line, and also adjacent to the river and LeBreton flats), bevoming home to the cities new Central Library. I cant say whether I think is the best idea, but I do agree that this node is likely to become a very important hub in the future. If there is one thing the city of Ottawa has done wel in reurbanism projects is understanding the need for long term planning and understanding all the critical factors that affect a site (not just 'we can sell this land to developers and make lots of money' but 'this spot is also an important transit hub and will become of great interest as LeBreton Flats is redeveloped and we need to factor that in too').
  6. bizorky

    bizorky Guest

    I was at the public meeting for the plan and I have to say I was not blown away. What is being built is largely a residential neighbourhood with little in the way of activities or cultural institutions beyond the museum. The river is once again forgotten, other than a bike path. Ottawa has a long history of turning its back on the the Rideau and the Ottawa rivers. Sometimes one can forget that they are there.
  7. waterloowarrior

    waterloowarrior Senior Member

    Apr 25, 2007
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    from ElChancho at SSP - this is the first building

  8. CityPlaceN1

    CityPlaceN1 Senior Member

    Feb 19, 2008
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    Never thought I'd see the day they actually start building here. Looks OK.
  9. adma

    adma Superstar

    Apr 23, 2007
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    I guess that's the "in" thing for this sort of stuff. St. Lawrence Neighbourhood with the Spire growing out of it
  10. Hypnotoad

    Hypnotoad Senior Member

    Jun 26, 2007
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    Downtown Toronto
    This neighbourhood could turn out really nice if they build on this and mix up the scale. Right now, I like this building but the base reminds me a bit of a 1980s University dorm building. I reserve final judgement until all the buildings are in place... sometime around 2115.
  11. Hydrogen

    Hydrogen post-young

    Apr 23, 2007
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    I was under the impression that most of the buildings would be of roughly the same look - which would be unfortunate. It strikes me that it will be a residential district with not much in the way of public attractions.

    Another museum may end up being situated in the LeBreton Flats north-west of this development, but the placing of museums in Ottawa is a now huge political issue.

    There has also been a lot of landscape work in the area. The old aqueducts have undergone considerable repair and restoration.

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