Addition to the National Arts Centre along the Rideau Canal. Diamond Schmitt Architects

National Arts Centre Officially Breaks Ground for Major Renovations


The National Arts Centre redesign will use glass to counter the concrete, “adding a layer of transparency,” the architect heading the project said on CBC Radio’s All In A Day after the $110-million renovation project officially broke ground on Tuesday.

A new Elgin Street entrance and atrium, as well as a new north addition to replace the concrete terraces, are expected to be unveiled in time for Canada’s 150th birthday on July 1, 2017.

“What we’re really doing is turning the National Arts Centre to really face the city,” said principal architect Donald Schmitt.

“The building was really designed to face the canal. It was almost designed as a piece of landscape that you climbed up and over the building and descended on the canal side.”

Schmitt is known for his work on performing arts venues around the world, including the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, Maison Symphonique in Montréal, the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia and the new David Geffen Hall in New York City.

The NAC has not had any major work done since it opened in 1969.

Construction will take place between 12 a.m. and 2 p.m., then “drills down,” allowing performances to continue, said NAC director of communication Rosemary Thompson.

She added that The Fourth Stage will shut down in May until the grand re-opening but that the thee other main stages will remain open.

“The show must always go on,” she said. “We know it can be a challenge but we want our audience to let us know how we’re doing and to stay with us.”

Additional images of the addition are available via the CBC News web site.

Capital Modern Conversation Starter

As has been the case for the past number of news releases, the latest announcement provides little new information as to the extent of the proposed renovations.  While the National Arts Centre has been generous in sharing the proposal to the public in formal presentations, these events commonly focus on the same issues, presenting similar views with updates to reflect the current state of design evolution.  However, the provided information fails to provide a comprehensive picture of the cumulative impact of the proposed modifications.

It also fails to address functional and public access expectations for renovated spaces such as:  will the event producers using the new Fourth Stage be required to leave the windows open along Elgin Street (keeping in mind that the existing Fourth Stage does have windows that are currently covered) and just how publicly accessible will the enlarged Panarama Room and new rentable spaces within the addition be.  While it is important for an organization like the National Arts Centre to have access to sustainable alternative funding sources, potentially limiting access to spaces that are currently open and public runs counter to the ethos that underpins the original design of the complex.

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