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Ottawa Public Library, Main Branch. 1973. George Bemi, architect.

I finally managed get into the library with my proper camera (sneaky cellphone shots don’t do it justice) and capture some of the beauty I see in the building. The main branch has been subject to some rather unsympathetic renovations over the years and it is sad that most people don’t experience it the way it was designed to be experienced. But if I can get in there and find it through a camera lens, I think it is possible to rediscover it through a thoughtful renovation.

brutalism

yowLAB co-director Sarah Gelbard has partnered with Ottawa (de)Tours to create a “walking seminar” on brutalist architecture downtown.

It has been said that brutalist architecture is “unloved but not unlovely”. Beyond the monolithic, opaque, concrete façades are buildings filled with drama, mystery, and strong civic focus. In the post­war building boom and leading up to the Centennial, grand and heroic ideals of civic welfare and cultural identity were translated into a new vision for Ottawa. The abstract, technically efficient, and impersonal nature of modernism was too closely tied to war. The strong character of brutalist architecture embodied renewed hope, stability, and humanity. Ironically, today we tend to misread these buildings as imposing and inhuman “eyesores”. . .

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As a little teaser, listen to Sarah’s interview on CBC In Town and Out from earlier this year and check out Centretown Buzz article. Tina Barton joined Sarah earlier this month for a preview of the tour. You can read her thoughts on “Is there any beauty in brutalism?”

The first block of tour dates is now available for booking.

Additional dates will be added throughout the summer and fall.

Originally posted in Centretown Buzz and Spacing Ottawa
by Sarah Gelbard
19 June 2015

Last summer, following the 40th anniversary of the Ottawa Public Library Main Branch on Metcalfe, the Main Library Facility Planning report was released including three recommendations; renewal, renovation, or redevelopment. Two years earlier, a Nanos Research survey reported that 83% of users of the main branch were satisfied with their user experience, the wide selection of resources, and central location. At that time, the OPL board supported modernization as its prefered option. This month, the OPL board will review yet another report, this time recommending the construction of a new central library.

The report released at the end of May incorporates feedback from “a very comprehensive public engagement process” including the public meeting at city hall on March 31st. 150 people attended the meeting and another 435 tuned into the live online broadcast. A breakout session invited those with a seat at city hall to “dream big” with a “sky’s the limit” vision for a new central library. Due to technical difficulties with the online feedback system, the discussion for those following online was unproductively relegated to Facebook resulting in only a handful of comments.

So, in the words of one of three questions for public input: “How would a Central Library transform our lives and our city?”

The report is a glossy and enthusiastic call for a library that is modern, innovative, connected, landmark, plus a handful more buzzwords. Beyond the traditional library spaces, it should contain a café, restaurants, collaborative workshop spaces, a teen zone, discover spaces, meeting rooms, outdoor and indoor gardens, and all wrapped in a bold—preferably glass—architectural statement that proudly shouts out: THIS IS OTTAWA’S LIBRARY!

It reads as a loud and extroverted vision for a library. Is that not a bit strange for a library? Are not libraries quiet and contemplative places? Yes, yes. I know. Libraries are changing. Digital technology. Virtual space. But are libraries really changing as a response to technology? Read More

SPECIAL EDITION yowLAB!
Sunday May 24
2pm
Pour Boy (495 Somerset St W)

While we always hope yowLAB PubNights will be productive brainstorm sessions, we’d like to take advantage of spring energy and excitement to plan out some summer projects for yowLAB.

Let’s start throwing around ideas on the event page. We’ve posted info on some of our past and ongoing projects and initiatives on the Facebook event page. You can also check out our project page. Please feel free to comment or post competitions, events, inspirational projects, etc. below.

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For those who haven’t been, yowLAB meetings are informal; part social, part networking, part brainstorming. It’s an opportunity for people with an interest in architecture, urbanism, and design to meet over a few pints.

NEWCOMERS are welcome. We’re a mix of design/urban professionals and enthusiasts. If you like cities and architecture, you are qualified!

We aim to try a different venue each meeting, generally somewhere central. This month we’ll be at TBD

We also feature Canadian architecture projects in our event banners. This month, we have TBD

This walk will cover a short distance along Bank street between Arlington and Nepean. The walk will focus on a series of buildings sketched by walk host Colin White.  Most of these buildings have changed in the few years since the sketches were done, and a few notably have not changed.  We’ll discuss the evolution of the individual buildings and the overall character of the street.  Participants will be given cards with illustrations of the buildings being discussed.

Illustrating Change on Bank Street

 
   

“It seems every time I draw a business it closed.” – Colin White

This feeling is something I think most Centretowners are familiar with, whether or not they draw. I lived in Ottawa for 13 years and Bank Street never changes, except that it always changes. Our walk leaders, Colin White (local artist & illustrator) and Liam Mooney (founder of Jackpine), narrated some of these familiar changes accompanied by a printout of Colin’s illustrations.

I lived at Elgin and Argyle from 2009-2014 so the first two changes on the walk were very familiar. Wilf & Ada’s (formerly Ada’s Diner) and the forthcoming “Smart House” (formerly the springroll chip wagon behind the #7 bus stop). And sandwiched between them, a couple days before Jane’s Walk, Black Squirrel Books closed with Troubadour Books and Records scheduled to open in a couple weeks. Slightly north, we have the Central condo developments, site of the “South Central” controversy and the subject of my first blog post here on yowLAB and first UrbSanity column for Centretown Buzz.

At the corner of Bank and Gladstone, we have Colin’s next illustration of Don Alfonso’s (now Thai-Viet). Liam gave a great description about the difference between the Don Alfonso storefront and the Thai-Viet storefront. There’s something that doesn’t quite fit anymore even if you can’t immediately put your finger on how it’s different. It’s great that graphic and printing technology is so much more accessible now, but something of the art of sign making seems lost. As Liam said, “nostalgia is actually a disease, but . . .” Colin admited he probably wouldn’t be drawn to draw the building now.

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We will discuss the architectural history of the new Noffke Heritage District, the Sullivan Bridge and the public washrooms at Patterson Creek, as well as future development along the Driveway between Fourth and Fifth Avenues.  We will also seek out some secret spots of the neighbourhood, especially the east end of Third Avenue, which has been documented by John Leaning in his book about the Glebe as a hotbed of eccentricity over the years.

Rideau Canal in the Glebe

Ah, Sunday morning walks through the Glebe! I spent much time in Central Park and along Patterson Creek during the years I lived in Ottawa. It was a little less pleasant having to bus from my friends’ home in Nepean in order to join up with my next Jane’s Walk—it took over a full hour. But it was nice to return to a familiar space and discover some unfamiliar stories about its past from our walk leader, John Walmsley.

The walk started on Clemow, east of Bank in front of these two lovely homes by Ottawa architect W.E. Noffke. I told you we would see his name again. He was also the architect of Ogilvy’s department store from Padolsky’s Market walk. It’s not surprising that Noffke appeared in two separate Jane’s Walks. According to this Urbsite post, over 200 buildings in Ottawa have been attributed to Noffke. In 2012, the Central Park area was designated as the Clemow Estate East Heritage Conservation District, including 10 Noffke homes overlooking the park.

We continued down Clemow as Walmsley continued to point out some of the other Noffke homes (shown in red on this map of the heritage conservation district). And then the shortest of stops to mention one home (marked in light pink “Categorie 4”). I don’t think many of the walk participants took much note of this home but it’s one of my favourites in Ottawa. This one is by yet another local architect, John Donkin. While looking it up for this post, I was surprised to learn it is a 2006 renovation. There’s something so beautifully mid-century modern about it that I guess I assumed it has been there for 40 years. But I guess that’s why I’d never noticed it until I moved back to the area in 2009. You can see a picture from before the renovation and some interior shots on Donkin’s website.

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The walk will explore the stories behind the conservation of familiar buildings in the By Ward Market Heritage Conservation District. It will also examine controversial still un-built new buildings such as the NCC’s 7 Clarence Street (previously demolished). The walk will explain the progress in installing the former Ogilvy Department Store heritage façade on the new Rideau Centre building (under construction) and ask questions about the future of the By Ward “Farmer’s Market.”

The Byward Market: Inside Stories of Heritage Conservation

Ottawa architect Barry Padolsky’s Byward Market heritage conservation walk is an annual favourite. Every year Padolsky varies the route to discuss different aspects of the Market and its history—usually touching on projects currently in the news. Spacing Ottawa has a great coverage of last year’s walk, when as you may recall Clarence Street and the old Memories building at Sussex was a contentious issue.

This year’s walk was similarly timely. The main stop of the walk (more talk than walk) was at Rideau and William Streets in front of the old Caplan’s department store (now Urban Outfitters). Apparently the Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee was successful in its appeal to the city (see here) not to approve the permit for its demolition in 2003.

From here, Padolsky discussed the Rideau Centre redevelopment, Rideau Street renewal plans, Rideau LRT station, and Ogilvy’s façade restoration.

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