Something old, something newPublished on December 21, 2010

  • The Queen's Crystal at the Canadian Museum of Nature. (Provided)

  • The Queen's Crystal at the Canadian Museum of Nature. (Provided)

Not just the preserve of wedding planners and brides-to-be, the mixing of the old and the new is something that architects and designers often use to great effect.


Nowhere is this more eloquently demonstrated than the Canadian Museum of Nature.

I have to confess a certain feeling of connection to this building. Not only is it a beautiful demonstration of the architects’ art, both historical and modern, but it is also intimately connected to Scotland.

Designed by David Ewart, a native of Scotland, the building echoes, without duplicating, the Gothic Revival style of Parliament’s Centre Block, which it faces down the length of Metcalfe Street.

Much of Ewart’s inspiration for the design came during a research trip which he took to Europe in 1901, prior to putting pen to paper for this building.

Construction at the site began in 1905, on land which had been sold to the government by Scottish-born merchant William Stewart, and seven years later, The Victoria Memorial Museum Building opened to great fanfare in 1912.

Famously, the building was designed to have a large tower over the main entryway, in acknowledgement of Parliament’s design, but unfortunately Ewart failed to account for the softness of the clay on which the building is constructed.

By 1915, the tower was visibly parting ways with the main structure of the building and had to be taken down.

Fast-forward around 89 years to 2004, and the museum begins a massive renovation project.

Not only do these renovations address much of the structural challenges that the building has faced over the years, but they also once again raise a dramatic tower over the entrance of this imposing building.

The new tower, known as the Queen’s Lantern, is a stunning work in glass and steel, but more importantly, also in light and space.

Beautiful during the day from inside or out, the tower becomes a breathtaking crystal of light by night, fully deserving of its royal appellation.

The Queen's Lantern shows us clearly what can be achieved by taking the best of traditional design and juxtaposing this with something unashamedly modern â€" a lesson we can all learn when we look at our own homes.

The New Year is scant weeks away; let’s make 2011 the year we do something daring with our own home design. After all, inspiration is all around us in this wonderful city!

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful holiday season. See you in the New Year!


Graham is the owner of Blueberry Interiors, a new interior decor consultancy, 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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