The Senate of Canada will move into the Government Conference Centre, a former train station built in 1912, while Parliament’s Centre Block—the Senate’s permanent home in Ottawa—is rehabilitated. The move is expected to begin this year. The Senate will start operating from the conference centre in early 2019 and is expected to occupy its temporary location for at least 10 years.
In early 2015, the architectural plans for the Senate’s temporary home called for three new committee rooms at the revamped Government Conference Centre.
According to an article on the Senate’s website, the three rooms were to be distributed over two levels: two on either side of a corridor through the general waiting room, the building’s massive entrance hall, and one a floor above, in the station’s old ticketing block.
There was just one problem—what to do about the resulting 250 m2 (2691 sf) of bare wall—an area equivalent to three movie-theatre screens?
Martin Davidson, a principal at Toronto’s Diamond Schmitt Architects that is overseeing the Government Conference Centre design in partnership with Ottawa’s KWC Architects, turned to historic landscape photographs for a solution.
“We wanted this space to reflect what the Senate is about, including the fact it represents the country’s different regions,” Davidson explained. “We looked at a variety of Canadian landscapes, wondering if we could use them to express the diversity of Canada’s regions.”
The canvases for these landscapes are imposing—perforated bronze screens measuring up to 6 m (20 ft) high by 14 m (46 ft) wide.
A scene of Newfoundland’s storm-lashed Cape Race covers the east wall, with Moraine Lake in Alberta’s Banff National Park facing it. The third panorama greets visitors as they descend marble stairs into the general waiting room. It depicts a steam engine pulling a train across a wooden trestle bridge on Vancouver Island. This image pays tribute to the building’s former role as a railway station.
To produce the panoramas, the architects converted the images into dot patterns and experimented to find the combination of dot size and spacing that would hold up most clearly at a distance.
A Toronto-based manufacturing company produced the pieces in May 2018 using a combination of robotic shaping and chemical finishing.
A computer-controlled press punched thousands of holes in the dozens of panels forming each panorama. The effect is like a giant halftone newspaper photograph. Up close, it is an abstract image; from a distance, the viewer sees the pattern of perforations resolve into a recognizable scene.
The panels were then sanded and soaked in a series of cleaning solutions. A final chemical bath aged the bronze by accelerating its oxidization rate, imparting a deep, shiny patina.
The panels were sanded a final time and oiled to protect and deepen the finish. They were installed outside the three committee rooms in May and June.
The panoramas also double as acoustic baffles. Mounted on top of sound-absorbing insulation, they absorb sound that otherwise would reverberate in such a large hall.
“We designed these landscapes to add an enormous sense of drama to an already extraordinary space but also to reflect the building’s identity,” said Davidson. “In the past, this building linked Canada’s regions to the capital by rail. Now, it links those regions to the capital through their voice in the Senate.”