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Canada Day Marks Grand Re-Opening of NAC

Canada Day Marks Grand Re-Opening of NAC

Photos courtesy of the National Arts Centre

For over a year Ottawa has been been engulfed in a sea of scaffolding, pylons and tarp. From West Block to the Alexandria Bridge, new monuments are being built, historic buildings restored and streetscapes redesigned. As the city, and the country, prepare for Canada’s sesquincennial celebration this Saturday, no building deserves a fresh look more than the National Arts Centre (NAC).

It is hard to miss. Nestled between the National War Memorial and old train station, the NAC building we remember looks more like a bunker than a cultural hub. Designed in the aptly named Brutalist style in the 1960s, it was (ironically?) commissioned by the government of Lester B. Pearson to commemorate Canada's 1967 centenary.

In December 2014, the NAC was granted $110.5 million from Canadian taxpayers to carry out a major renovation of the National Arts Centre including a 70,000 sq ft expansion.

The NAC’s rejuvenation was designed by architect Donald Schmitt who artfully married the old with the new – combining the geometry of the original building with beautiful, bright and welcoming spaces. A glittering lantern, soaring atriums and iconic views. Oh and more washrooms. Like, a lot more.

While those wandering the streets may think this is simply an exercise in aesthetics, the renovations prioritize the practical -  including addressing accessibility and accommodating large crowds.

Starting in earnest in 2016, the major external demolition was coupled with the, since completed, renovation of Southam Hall on the inside.

As Jayne Watson, CEO of the NAC Foundation told OLM this past October when speaking of the finished project, “[Southam Hall] has more wood on the floors, new seats, cross aisle, center aisle, more accessibility and it is just going to be a better experience aesthetically and artistically.”

Every change to the building has been well thought-out and more than what it seems.

The new wood seats and floors in Southam Hall provide better acoustics. Many materials are locally sourced, from the stone in the lobby from Owen Sound to the impressive wood coffered ceilings made from BC douglas fir waste wood and fabricated in Chesterville, ON.

On a grander scale, there is the glass lantern. A focal point of this renovation, the lantern will not only be an impressive sight from Elgin Street and a welcome source of light, but also a giant screen. The glass is laden with LED technology to transform it into a giant digital screen and livestream events from inside the building or across the country.

It may seem impossible that a project of this scale could be completed in such a short timeline, but a goal like Canada’s 150 has proven to be plenty of motivation.

Everyone has been working around the clock to finish in time and while there are still a few reveals taking place over the next 6 months – the atrium’s second floors, new event spaces, banquet rooms and the Fourth Stage – you can celebrate the grand re-opening of the NAC this Canada Day.

The official Re-opening and Ribbon Cutting take place at 2pm on July 1, but you can also participate in an onsite BBQ, free performances by the NAC Orchestra, Canada’s National Ballet School and a variety of more performances and experiences over the weekend.

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