Modernist MasterpiecePublished on October 27, 2010

  • Graham Cowen

You know, Ottawa really does have a lot to recommend it. There's so much variety in terms of culture, food, entertainment and, my own personal favorites, architecture and design, that there's no way anyone could ever be bored.

Whether you're catching the Crash Test Dummies playing at the tiny First Baptist Church, wandering round the edgy Pop Life exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada, or planning your visits to see Billy Connolly and Bill Clinton at the National Art Centre - not together, I hasten to add - there's always something exciting and, frequently, a little eclectic to see and do.

I fell in love with the NAC as soon as I arrived in Ottawa.  Not just a hub for the performing arts, it's also an architectural tour-de-force; a real modernist masterpiece.

Designed in the Brutalist style by Fred Lebensold, clothed in dark Laurentian granite aggregate, the building is cradled in the very centre of the downtown hub, an amazing example of the impact that this type of architecture can have on its environment. 

The irregular plan of the structure is based on triangular and hexagonal forms, a theme repeated at various scales throughout the site.  Personally, I love the view of the east of the building, where the various strata that make up this wonderful structure are exposed.

The largest performance space in the building is Southam Hall, able to accommodate an audience of over 2,000, and, when the centre first opened, this was graced with a stage curtain designed by the late Micheline Beauchemin. 

The story is told that, as audiences first entered the Hall on June 2, 1969, they broke into spontaneous applause at the beauty of Micheline's work of art and, while the Beauchemin Curtain is no longer used on a regular basis, it can still be seen on special occasions.

I discovered a fascinating video of the construction of the site.  The vigilant will notice a proposed "Marina" on the Canal in some of the scale models, which was sadly never constructed.

For myself, things have been going along really well with the new business and I'll chat more about that and other wonderful things I've discovered in my next post.  Check out our website if you want to learn more about what we're up to.

Thanks for reading and speak soon!


Graham is the owner of Blueberry Interiors, a new interior decor business, specializing in modern and contemporary design themes. You can keep up with him here at Ottawa at Home, on Twitter by following @grahamcowen, or you can reach him directly at

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