Building LeBetter Flats, part 5, The Isles

The projected build out of Albert and Chaudiere Islands * starts with the material already at hand, ie the existing buildings.

The former brick and stone mill buildings will be converted to commercial uses, starting in 2015. These offer the quickest revenue opportunity for the developer, Windmill, and I imagine it is much easier to attract firms rather than condo residents. Particularly hi-tech-y firms which show a propensity to edgy industrial sites in other cities in part due to their often young employee age group and non-conventional self-image.

The first buildings to be converted will most likely be on Albert Island, immediately behind the War Museum. The Island is small, making it easier for the developer to digest and get the project going. The existing two buildings are right on Booth Street; a single new building is proposed at the western tip of the Island, right behind the Museum:

3b sharper aerial image from windmill

zooming in closer, the Museum is at the bottom of the picture, Booth Street on the right; and the new ped-cyclist bridge to the island over a control dam is shown on the left (previously subject to this story: :

3c albert island close up


The space between the two old buildings the developer proposed to glass-in to make it a four seasons courtyard. The Isles location is windy, and often considerably colder than the rest of the city (it is no coincidence that the Flats was both a cold sink and slum at the same time). This is a brilliant solution to the challenges of the location, amps the glamour aspect, and makes the spaces useable year round. Here’s an artist’s impression as seen from Booth Street just leaving the Ottawa shoreline behind the Museum:

11b windmill photoshop, entry plaza

The large glass roof is an artist’s impression, lacking as it does much in the way of structure to hold it up. Note that the outside traffic lane on Booth Street has been converted to a bike lane appealing enough for parents to use it with children (more on this in a bit). The occupants of the buildings will have water views just inches beyond their windows, which should be very dramatic and marketable.

Moving into the courtyard:

13 inside the entry plaza courtyard

The proposed indoor / four season plaza will be very welcoming and worthwhile destination on the Islands. The reddish hue to the brick suggests the old buildings are red brick underneath all that gray paint that was slapped on to tidy them up in time for the opening of the War Museum. Again, the glass roof is miraculously unsupported, but it is a marketing picture (selling the project for approval to regulators) and is not intended to be 100% realistic.

Moving on towards Chaudiere Island, the screen grab below shows the dense pattern of high and medium rise buildings proposed. These will be a mix of commercial buildings (offices, hotels, retail)  and condos. The prime location, with immediate water views and views of the downtown, mean these will be higher end buildings. There is no social housing component that I am aware of. Will any of these units meet the City’s housing affordability standards? (Claridge does on the Flats; at a recent Windmill open house I couldn’t get an answer to that).

5 islands themselves, photoshop, closer up


As yet, there is no public info as to the proposed palette of materials for the building exteriors. The current Flats projects are mostly brick exteriors, albeit in less-than-popular [NCC-mandated-] yellow and brown. Windmill’s other projects in Ottawa are often brick-free, for eg The Current (home of GCTC, at Holland/Wellington) and The Eddy (Wellington at Spadina). Even their high-end downtown Cathedral Hill condo is mostly clad in metal and panels, with some black brick accents, and stone at the street level. When I look at a number of buildings in Ottawa with metal panels that fade over time, and so-called long-life exterior panels that seem to be delaminating after a mere five years, I am somewhat concerned about the exteriors.  I also suspect that some of these artist impression concept drawings violate Ontario’s new restrictions on how much glazing can be on condo exteriors.

All the concept drawings show Booth Street put on a road diet to two lanes, with some of the existing road asphalt converted to bike lanes and wider sidewalks. There is a third lane shown through Chaudiere Island, presumably it is a left turn lane:


6 chaud bridge closer in

and closer to the historic metal bridge over the main channel:

6b closing into the chaud bridge


Here’s the bridge after the road diet, with two lanes of traffic, and a green bike lane on each side. It is painted green in this illustration simply to emphasize its presence, since in practice Ottawa doesn’t do green lanes except at selected intersections. I hope these will be cycle tracks similar to Churchill Avenue (set back from road by curb and utility poles and plantings), rather than asphalt lanes designed only by a painted stripe that motorists view as invitations to convenient curbside stopping.


7 bike lanes on bridge


The bridge isn’t wide enough for both bike lanes and sidewalks, so the walks have been cantilevered off outside edges, which apparently doesn’t affect the bridge’s  ‘heritage’ designation (the same is proposed for Bank Street over the canal):

7.1 canteliever of ped lanes


On the north end of the metal bridge span, the roadway continues to split into two narrower bridges with a void in between them. Terraces de la Chaudiere is clearly recognizable on the left, and new buildings on the right:

8 far side of the bridge bike lanes



Windmill is proposing a number of buildings on Chaudiere Island and the Gatineau shoreline. They have artist’s impressions of the building sizes (the exterior designs are for marketing purposes only) and the spaces between. Here are few screen grabs of these elements:

15 another view of mixed heights, mod bldgs


The Gatineau side is not the subject area of this blog, but it too is quite dense with a series of tall buildings and shorter ones. Considerable care appears to have taken to maintain view lines and easy access to the shoreline, with multi user pathways along the channels and river.

16 highrises, gatineau side


Artist impression of a residential courtyard: The NCC Flats project has similar courtyards, albeit without a stream but with an occasionally-working fountain. This illustration could apply pretty much equally to either the Isles or the Flats:

16b sidewalk view, their photo


In summary, the Isles project appears to me to be very similar to the Flats project already under way. It appears to be more dense, with buildings closer together than the LeBreton Flats project. In fairness though, Claridge and NCC are apparently in talks to increase the density of the existing Flats plan, and one eight storey building just completed started out in the plans as a four storey, grew to six, then eight.

The water itself is a form of open space, and occupants of The Isles will pay for a water view. As shown before, the Flats apartments also have wonderful water views, but are set further back from the waters edge where it is warmer. In an urban environment, the road allowances, such as Wellington and Booth, also become open spaces between buildings.

photoshop closer up, islands


I’m optimistic The Isles will develop into an attractive urban environment, reasonably well integrated with the adjacent Flats project  (provided the NCC doesn’t insert more of their often-sterile / dead green buffers between the two — I hear rumours of yet another green space on the southwest side of Booth/Wellington to enhance motorist views of the War Museum, which would further push these two communities apart).   I’m even optimistic that, in the long run, Booth Street through the Flats will be tamed — probably long after I’m dead — after the City’s insensitive rebuilding of Booth starting January 15th into a four lane Bronson-style highway to nowhere, sans bike tracks.

I am even cheerful that the proposed building heights for both the Flats and Isles top out at the low twenties (for now). Compare to Preston-Carling area where Claridge’s now-under-construction ICON building, at 45 stories, will someday be topped by Richcraft’s Carling Station  condos going to Planning Committee in January to approve 58 stories, with a second tower in the low 50’s and the “little” 18 storey building which is growing up to 30. Arnon, owners of the property on the west side of the OTrain Station, will surely seek the same heights.

The Flats and the Isles have come a long way from their industrial past:

30 historic aerial photo from windmill



A note on picture sources: the sharp images generally come from site and their planning applications. The fuzzier pictures are screen grabs from their photoshop-animation movie shown at a recent open house in Gatineau. The whole movie should be on their website in late January or February. I copied the whole film off the screen at the open house, but the quality is too atrocious even for my You Tube.  





* The Isles site does not include the big Victoria Island where the Carbide Mill is and Aboriginal Experiences site nor the Aboriginal Embassy site

3 thoughts on “Building LeBetter Flats, part 5, The Isles

  1. I can’t help thinking that the Lebreton development would have turned out better if the Isles had gone first. The NCC/Claridge is trying to jumpstart an urban residential community in the middle of a field, a moonscape field in fact. If they’d expanded organically from an existing neighbourhood it would have been better, but they couldn’t start at the southern edge because of the LRT project. Maybe they can delay their next steps until after the Isles is well underway. Borrow some inspiration, prestige and sense of place from what Windmill wants to do.

  2. On the buildings just across the water from the War Museum, you suggest that they will be done first. Did you hear this from Windmill? Because they said in the last few days that the construction activity will be starting on the Gatineau side. During the construction of the War Museum, they had beige paint which was falling off.

    I suspect that they will want to use strong materials, such as brick, especially for the windward sides of the buildings as they will be facing (literally) a lot of weather. I’d hate to have floor-to-ceiling glass windows facing west.

    The structure of the metal bridge shown in the designs is consistent with what is there now (I was just there today): a sidewalk outside the bridge on the east side, and no sidewalk and nothing outside the bridge on the west side (shown in the renderings as having been converted to bike tracks)

    Peter – the NCC could not have started the Chaudière site first because they did not (and do not) own those properties. They were owned variously by Domtar, Hydro Ottawa, Hydro Quebec, etc. When the NCC went to the feds to ask for money to buy the properties, the feds turned them down.

    1. Charles: I gathered at their open house that of the new condos, Gatineau is ready to go soon, but the islands themselves already have water and sewer and can go right away, however, the older mill buildings are even more ready and they can get commercial tenants and retailers in without the long marketing times for condos. From this I understand the sequence will be commercial conversions of heritage buildings first, then new stuff. I think it makes most sense to attack Albert Island first, due to its size and location. The Gatineau market is apparently much different — lower price — from what they see the –more premium — Islands market to be.

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