When the Westgate Shopping Centre officially opened on May 12, 1955, it was an instant landmark for the nation’s capital. Located in the west end of Ottawa, the complex was the city’s first shopping mall.
Publicity materials announcing the opening boasted of parking “for more than 1,200 cars” – free, of course – and a “wide protective canopy” that ringed the structure for all-weather shopping. There was even a futuristic gamma-ray device used for the official opening in lieu of a standard ribbon cutting.
Skip forward nearly seventy years and the mall’s lustre had long-since faded despite several renovations over the years, with newer malls and big box centres drawing away customers and marquee retailers.
In 2015, property owner RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust submitted a proposal to the City of Ottawa to replace the existing mall with a new mixed-use community. The approved plan calls for the site to be redeveloped in multiple phases, adding a mix of commercial and residential space.
The recently completed Phase 1 component is a striking addition to the cityscape. It consists of a four-storey base, a 24-storey tower with 213 rental units, and 20,000 square feet of retail space on the southeast end of the nearly five-hectare property. Residents and retailers started moving occupancy in December 2022.
Ottawa-based RLA/Architecture was selected to create the design for the first phase of the redevelopment. As with any major project, there was a lot of back-and-forth on the design between the developer and its team and the municipality’s Design Review Panel (DRP).
Glen Vaillancourt, a managing partner at RLA/Architecture, explains that the challenge for any architect is to “animate” what are essentially boxes. Colour is a key tool in helping create that animation.
“What we’re looking for is how the materials are combined to try to create a sense of depth by using one colour against another. It enlivens the elevations when you have a couple of materials to work with. And that’s what we were trying to do with this building,” says Vaillancourt.
“Our initial proposal had more striking colours in the tower,” he adds. “The DRP suggested that we should approach it with more subtlety, which we did. It’s a collaborative process really.”
Ultimately, the team landed on a contemporary and fashionable style that contrasts dark and light materials.
The light tone was achieved using Shouldice Stone’s 90 x 190 x 390 Tapestry brick in Pearl White. The contrasting darker bricks were by a competitor.
The large windows, manufactured by State Window Corp. in Vaughan, Ontario, feature a yellow hue in the spandrel panel system. These are the panels between window units that cover up floor slabs and other unsightly elements that are best hidden from the street view. “The yellow colour in the spandrels gives [the overall look] a softer feel so it’s less contrast and more complimentary,” says Vaillancourt.
Finally, there are metal panels by Mississauga, Ontario-based Flynn Canada.
The masonry was installed by the Gatineau, Quebec-based branch of G A Masonry. Branch manager Joe Costa was happy to be using Shouldice Stone on this job as it’s a company whose products he’s worked with for more than 20 years.
“We like it a lot because it’s a high-quality product. The cream of the crop,” says Costa. “It makes it much easier to lay. We don’t need to add any expansion joints [to prevent cracking].”
Other elements used to help animate the structure include the balconies, a rooftop terrace and the penthouse floor.
Showing how much the times have changed since the mall first opened, the new complex features almost as many parking spots for bicycles (200) as for cars, 192 spread over two underground stories and 32 at street level.
With its mix of residential and commercial space the newly revamped Westgate Shopping Centre is set to be a hub where people come to live, work and shop for decades to come.