Centre Block Rehabilitation Project: Balancing the conservation and renewal of Canada’s most iconic site
The restoration and modernization of Centre Block led by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) is the centrepiece of the Long Term Vision and Plan for the Parliamentary Precinct. Through this rehabilitation project, the building and grounds will be carefully adapted to meet the requirements of the Parliament of Canada, as well as 21st century expectations for sustainability, security and accessibility, while protecting and conserving their heritage character, qualities and features.
Given the heritage value and deteriorating state of the building, this work is important and necessary, and presents tremendous technical and design challenges. Achieving the balance between conservation and renewal is one of the project’s greatest challenges. To address this, PSPC has engaged heritage conservation specialists with the design lead, CENTRUS, and the construction manager, PCL/EllisDon, to ensure heritage conservation requirements guide all aspects of the project. This included the development of a comprehensive asset-level inventory and condition assessment, a conservation management plan, and a heritage impact assessment process. Collectively, these efforts will ensure the conservation of heritage value assets, as set out in the National Historic Site and Classified Federal Heritage designations.
In addition, a Conservation Management Team is in place to guide this work, and includes experienced heritage conservation experts from the Senate, House of Commons, Library of Parliament, PSPC and the Canadian Conservation Institute, among others. This group advises on all activities to protect and preserve the thousands of elements that make up Centre Block’s irreplaceable living decorative program, including sculptures, murals, stained glass and light fixtures, as well as the commemorative monuments across the site.
Guided by the original design intent for the landscape and building, the goals of the heritage restoration program are to:
- conserve the heritage value and symbolic meaning of Parliament Hill and Centre Block as the physical expression of Canada’s history, identity, and parliamentary democracy
- reinforce Parliament Hill and Centre Block as a coherent, three-dimensional composition, or “Total Work of Art”
- reinstate the intended range of sequences and experiences, as well as the intended interrelationships among the site, the functions and activities, the buildings, the landscape, and the people
- reveal and preserve the original Beaux-Arts design of Centre Block
- strengthen the connection between Parliament Hill and Centre Block through the reinstatement of a dignified entry sequence that builds on historic patterns and reinforces their character-defining attributes
- reinforce the primacy and central position of Centre Block on Parliament Hill and within the Parliamentary Precinct and the National Capital
Work is being carried out meticulously to protect the living decorative program, a vital expression of Canada’s parliamentary democracy, history, and nationhood. From intricate wood and stone carvings to historic lighting and paintings, these decorative and artistic works are being individually assessed, catalogued, protected and conserved, either off-site or in place. Elements that cannot be removed, such as decorative plaster ceilings and some ornate stone and wood sculptures, will be covered and protected in their current location. This work includes:
- assessing, cataloguing, and protecting more than 20,000 heritage assets, such as the hand-painted linen ceiling in the House of Commons, in preparation for subsequent restoration
- removing 400 historic windows and restoring approximately 250 stained glass windows
- removing more than 170 heritage light fixtures, some weighing more than 1,540 kilograms
- removing, protecting, and storing 50 painted art works:
- 15 frescoes
- 10 Pusterla murals
- 17 Crisp murals
- 8 war paintings
- Covering and protecting marble columns, wood flooring and stairwell railings throughout the building for the remainder of the project
PSPC is also leveraging innovative techniques such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) to support heritage conservation. These digital models will enable the Centre Block team to create 3D representations of heritage assets such as sculptures, grotesques, carvings, woodworking elements, and assist conservation specialists in their work.
Balancing heritage conservation and respectful adaptation to meet contemporary requirements, while embodying 21st-century cultural aspirations, is neither quick nor simple. It involves consultation and engagement with a diverse array of stakeholders and authorities, and consideration of a broad range of perspectives. Requirements must be studied and preliminary designs prepared to understand their implications for the historic landscape and building.
This important work will ensure that visitors to Parliament Hill and Centre Block can continue to enjoy these emblems of Canada’s parliamentary heritage for another century.
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