The Canadian Museum of Nature (CMN) opened in 1912 as the first purpose-built museum in Canada. The original building — known as the Victoria Memorial Museum Building (VMMB) — was designed by architect David Ewart in the Tudor-Gothic Style using Beaux-Arts planning principles. Shortly after its completion, the stone tower began to sink into the ground because of unstable soil conditions.
In 1915, the upper part of the tower was removed, consequently disrupting the clarity of the plan order. During the course of the 20th century, the original park land that surrounded the museum was replaced with a concrete moat of parking. In 2001 the museum embarked on a renewal project to improve its public profile, functional performance, and exhibitions and programs as part of a vision of national service.
The project is located in Ottawa, Canada’s national capital, at the south end of Metcalfe Street directly on axis with Parliament Hill in the Centretown neighbourhood.
The design objectives were to cherish the heritage architecture as an artifact, restore the materials and craftsmanship of the Tudor-Gothic details and restate the axial clarity of the Beaux-Arts plan. New interventions in the form of a Lantern Tower and Butterfly Stair revitalize the image of the museum while simultaneously restoring key elements of Ewart’s original design.
The Lantern is a structural glass fin assembly hung like a curtain from the cantilevered roof above the top of the existing stone parapet of the truncated original tower. The glazed lantern element restates the original proportion of Ewart’s entrance while the stair is inserted within the lantern to restore a continuous loop of movement through all four levels of the museum.
The generously scaled stair contributes a series of new platforms from which to appreciate the craftsmanship of the historic building fabric up close. The renewal reinforces the value of preserving Canada’s heritage artifacts for the enrichment of its social and cultural legacy. Architects: Padolsky, Kuwabara, Gagnon Joint Venture Architects (PKG): Barry Padolsky Associates Inc.
Architects, Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects, Gagnon Letellier Cyr Ricard Mathieu ArchitectesPhotos: Tom Arban, Maris Mezulis, Eric Fruhauf and Double Space Photography.