The Government of Canada Visitor Welcome Centre – Phase 1 (VWC) on Parliament Hill, a collaboration between Arcadis (formerly IBI Group) in association with Moriyama Teshima Architects, provided the opportunity for the two firms to collaborate on the design of a distinctive, sophisticated, and engaging welcome centre that, through thoughtful and inclusive design, would express the best of what Canada is and represents to the world. The new VWC was the first major addition on Parliament Hill in almost a century; expressed as both a building and a landscape intervention, the VWC was designed as a literal and metaphoric bridge. The building is a two-level underground complex intended to improve security and enhance circulation between buildings on the historic site in Ottawa, Ontario.
In order to integrate the VWC into the landscape, the existing heritage flagstaff and retaining walls were extended down into the new lower concourse. The entrance to the VWC was carefully set into the Vaux Wall (“Vaux”: Referring to Calvert Vaux, English-American architect active in the 19th century, who favoured naturalistic and curvilinear lines in his designs), one of the most significant and valued heritage landscape features on Parliament Hill. The stones of the Vaux Wall with sweeping arches at both the entrance and exit, gracefully reveal a recessed façade of ornamental woven metal; its form is consistent with the heritage landscape palette, interpreted through a contemporary aesthetic. Framing the doors is a recessed “garden gate” façade of softly articulated woven bronze patterns, a modern take on existing Ruskin neo-gothic detailing on Parliament Hill.
Upon entering the doors, visitors enter a cross-vaulted entry hall that achieves the delicate feat of including security screening facilities, while preserving dignified, open public access. Visitor spaces are purposefully expansive and intuitive to navigate, with overlooks and glass walls allowing glimpses into the rooms ahead; floor to ceiling glazing and bronze filigree screens allow views to the concourse level below. After passing through the security area, visitors proceed to the steps of the Arrival Hall landing, faced with the full breadth and scale of the VWC expansion.
As visitors descend to the lower Concourse, a series of double height marble clad columns reach up to support dramatic cross and barrel vaults of white plaster, taking cues from the soaring, upward movement of Gothic architecture. Columns feature a pleated profile on four sides to further diminish their visual weight; at the top of the columns, these pleats serve to accentuate the spring point of the vaults. This language of pleating is carried throughout – from the chiseled stone frames of the exterior arches, the bronze stair handrails, and the millwork – in order to unify the parts of the whole. Natural light from the entrance and exit vestibules above reaches the gathering space below. Bronze filigree screens framing the atrium echo the intertwined ornamental forms of the exterior guardrails and the exterior bronze garden gate facade.
Spaces are further defined by limestone walls, bright terrazzo flooring, white oak finishes, and bronze accents. A finesse in detail and finishes diminish the visual weight of underground structural elements to a more human scale. This same human scale imparted within the building’s interior continues with the exterior landscaped spaces emphasizing a holistic design and material befitting the dignity of Parliament Hill. The Galleria, a barrel-vaulted underground passageway, leads directly to the West Block, where the interim House of Commons presently resides. Once the visitor has completed their tour, they can proceed back towards the Grand Stair, leading back up into the Arrival Hall and out through the Exit Vestibule.
The project introduces a feeling of lightness and verticality within the constraints of restricted underground floor heights and limited natural light. Spaces are thus defined by a simplified material palette and minimalist interpretation of traditional forms: clean, white plaster cross and barrel vaulted ceilings, honed Danby marble clad columns, Adair limestone walls, bright terrazzo flooring, white oak finishes and bronze accents make the building feel exceptionally calm and composed while reflecting as much light as possible; an air of finesse is introduced within the constraints of highly secure and robust construction requirements for the facility.
Enriched with a new layer of contemporary form, the design seamlessly knits the heritage fabric into the present, thoughtfully balancing the existing language of beaux arts planning and Victorian architecture. Interior finishes and detailing are also inspired by the heritage context, expressing an elegant material palette of Adair limestone, Danby marble, white oak, and bronze.
Welcoming some 350,000 visitors to Parliament Hill on an annual basis, this sensitive infill project serves as the first point of entry for all guests to the Parliamentary Precinct, Home of the Government of Canada, a National Historic Site. The Visitor Welcome Centre establishes a secure public entry to the buildings on Parliament Hill while preserving the integrity and openness of the public green on Canada’s most important heritage site. Certified to LEED Gold level of sustainability, the facility has stringent criteria for functionality, security and heritage, with brand new connections to buildings and the landscape that previously did not exist.
Lead designerHeather Semple, Principal (Arcadis (formerly IBI Group)) and Carol Phillips, Partner-in-Charge (Moriyama Teshima Architects)
Design teamDiane Phillips, Farhan Haqqani, Bernie Duquette, Emmanuelle van Rutten, Chen Cohen, Amanda Gilbert, Greg Perkins, Will Klassen, Chris Ertsenian, Shawn Geddes, Maria Pavlou, Mei Chow, Louis Lortie, Mohammed al Riffai, Claudia Cozzitorto, Hamia Aghaiemeybodi
Consultant teamAdjeleian Allen Rubeli Limited & WSP Global, Pageau Morel, Lemay, Morrison Hershfield, Gabriel Mackinnon Lighting Design, DFS Architecture & Design, SOTA, KJA Consultants, Betty Dion Ent., Jaan Krusberg Design, Upper Canada Specialty Hardware, Hanscomb, PCL Construction