Project for the edge of Parliament Hill, Ottawa

(Competition project, 2001)

Seen from the air, Ottawa is a city marked by the co-existence of two urban/landscape phenomena: the abstract city grid that replicates equivalent spatial units, and the river whose edge produces a series of specific spatial conditions. The relationship between the three city blocks of the competition site and the highly figurative parliamentary buildings is grounded in this broader duality. Before the latter, the weave of the city grid spreads out like a textile.

This project, a hybrid programmatic proposal that incorporates cultural and governmental facilities, concerns the development of the large urban site forming the southern edge of Parliament Hill. The architectural strategy is developed from the notion that the city (and, by extension, the land beyond) might in some way be gathered up or folded onto the site, with all the density and compression that the metaphor implies. Through the topology of the folds, a new urban continuum would be established, one that draws together and rearticulates the space of the parliament and the space of the city.

In the project, the existing buildings on the site are edited in order to break down the cellular nature of the existing morphology and produce a notional texture of minor architectural elements, which are then re-inscribed within the new structure. The grain of the lot lines that extend beyond the site, striating the city fabric, is retained.

The passage of the lot lines beyond the site suggested a reading of them as a sequence of journeys from the site through the city. In the design process, the lines were identified with a selection of narratives drawn from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, which were in turn analysed to produce a series of defining structural ‘meta-texts’.

The narratives and meta-texts, read in relation to the city, were then used to elaborate a series of narrative architectural strips. The extent of each of the strips, which vary widely, was suggested by the interplay of city and text. Some are highly attenuated: Andia, for example, traverses the city. Others are more compressed: Hypatia journeys through the internal spaces of the central parliamentary building, redrawing it. Taken together, the narrative strips produce a series of architectural effects operating at differing scales and densities.

These strips, which capture, transform and redistribute elements from the city were then, through a sequence of 26 folds, interwoven with one another upon the competition site.