The fireworks fizzled rather than dazzled in a heavily overcast sky, but that did not dampen the enthusiasm for the designs of Canada’s two new national treasure houses.
At their unveiling in Ottawa last week, the models of the new National Gallery of Canada and the National Museum of Man, which will be built in Ottawa and Hull by 1988, drew praise from politicians, architects and artists. That reaction countered lingering criticism over the architect selection process, the choice of sites and the advance release of some of the details of the designs of the $80-million buildings. Said the National Gallery’s designer, Montreal architect Moshe Safdie: “Everyone has been so committed and excited, it has the quality of Expo days.”
That comparison was particularly fitting because it was at Montreal’s Expo 67 that Safdie established his reputation with his design of the imaginative modular housing complex, Habitat. Since then he has worked largely on foreign projects, and his art gallery, a three-storey monument of stone, copper, concrete and glass, will be only his fourth major project in Canada. The focal point of Safdie’s gallery is a 118foot-high, glass-enclosed great hall which he called a “living room for the city.” It will be the entry point to the various galleries and afford visitors a
270° vista, including the Parliament buildings and, across the Ottawa River in Hull, the new Museum of Man.
At the same time, Alberta architect Douglas Cardinal’s serpentine, threestorey design for the Museum of Man also features a great hall, with a wall of glass providing a view back across the river to Ottawa. Two main units will house more than two million Canadian artifacts, many of which are now scattered in 17 warehouses. The design includes a theatre, which will also serve as a planetarium, a children’s museum and a special gallery for touring shows. As well, a 300-m corridor of streetscapes will re-create various Canadian environments, such as an old Ukrainian chapel and historic Quebec City. Said Jean Sutherland Boggs, chairman of the Canada Museums Construction Corp.:
“This is a building that seems to reach out and embrace people.”
The selection process created a controversy among architects because Boggs circumvented the usual opencontest procedure and went straight to her choice of architects. But aside from its wings featuring European art, prints, drawings, photography and modern and contemporary art, the new National Gallery will have display space for twice as much Canadian art as the present National Gallery, a converted office building in downtown Ottawa, now can show. And many of the exhibits in the Museum of Man, which is now in cramped quarters in a 1912 building near the centre of the city, will be on display for the first time. Still, completing both buildings and their settings within the $186-million construction and operating budget might prove impossible. Already Boggs is contemplating cutting costs by using bricks instead of stone and by postponing some of the landscaping. Communications Minister Francis Fox said he would hold Boggs to her budget, but he added that the government would not leave the museums without landscaping. Meanwhile, Ottawa has just finished its $18-million aviation museum within budget.
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