Architecture Canada | RAIC Report

Politics and Architecture

The federal government is proceeding with plans to erect a National Memorial to the Victims of Communism in the judicial precinct beside Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Whatever one might think about the need for such a commemoration in the nation’s capital, the choice of site is regrettable.

By Allan Teramura

Whatever one might think about the need for such a commemoration in the nation’s capital, the choice of site is regrettable. One hundred years of urban design thinking has informed the growth of the parliamentary and judicial precincts. This planning process currently finds expression in the award-winning plan by a consortium led by DTAH Architects, referred to as the Long Term Vision and Plan.

In the plan, the site is intended for a new building for the federal court. This building would complete a “Judicial Triad,” consisting of the Supreme Court of Canada to the north, flanked by the Justice Building to the east, and a federal court on the parcel to the west. It is meant to complement the “Parliamentary Triad” of the Centre, East, and West Blocks; together they create a cultural landscape that represents Canada’s core democratic institutions.

It is disheartening that Canada’s government would deliberately choose to disfigure the cumulative work of generations of the nation’s most talented architects, urban designers and landscape architects.
A letter to the Globe and Mail signed by 17 past presidents of the Canadian Bar Association called it “ill-conceived…to add an imposing sculpture signaling a strong political message, controversial or not, literally in the face of the very institution which is the final arbiter in Canada of disputes ….”

Clearly, the lawyers understand the significance and power of symbols.
It’s difficult to find a positive side to this story for the architectural community, except that the memorial project has triggered a national public debate on architecture and urbanism.

The range of people who have expressed either opposition or support for this project includes many of the country’s leading public figures and commentators such as Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, the Globe and Mail’s Jeffrey Simpson and the CBC’s Rick Mercer.

The Canadian Institute of Planners, the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects, and the Ontario Association of Architects have issued public statements. Both the RAIC and the individual architects who expressed their concerns were cited in the many media reports. While issues with a national profile do not come along every day, at a local level there are many opportunities for architects to be advocates. If there is a positive outcome of this controversy, it would be that more architects speak out when they see the public interest at risk.

Allan Teramura, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada [RAIC]
Regional Director, Ontario North, East and Nunavut