Ottawa has a curious bunch of downtown buildings dating from the Robert Campeau era (1960’s and 70’s). They all share a certain formula: towers “inspired” by famous buildings elsewhere, usually built on massive ugly windowless podiums, and with no apparent front doors.
Consider the Centennial Towers, whose entrance used to be facing a drive through arch, mercifully removed during its last renovation. Or the Marriott hotel, also sitting on a rough concrete windowless podium, its entrance facing a mid-block driveway well concealed from motorists and pedestrians alike. Or the black cube Place de Ville office towers, some of which still have their entrances facing windswept desolate plazas rather than the public sidewalk. The worst of all was the old Skyline Hotel, alias the Crowne Plaza, and now the Delta Downtown.
The building itself was inspired by the Pan Am building (now Met Life building) in NYC:
The Skyline is characterized by its windowless façade at sidewalk level, largely windowless podium, and the front door elevated about eight feet above the sidewalk at the top of a drive-through ramp that wrecks havoc on the traffic flow of adjacent intersections (taxis frequently use the ramp as a contra flow lane to beat the one way Lyon Street).
But, enough about the building’s abundant and evident problems. The new owners, the Delta Hotel chain, plan some major renovations to fix what they can. Soon, the front ramp will be gone. Significant new entrances will appear at the ground level on Albert Street and Lyon Street.
The lobby is currently a confusing multi-level mess. The sidewalk level lobby is basically useless, featuring two non-functioning fountains, a tuck shop, and corridors to elsewhere. It feels lonely and bleak.
The main lobby is up a short, awkward flight of stairs from the car ramp. There is a bar, and reception, and large light well into the unloved lower lobby. Seldom noticed is that it is open to the third floor, as a lifeless “atrium”.
The new Delta will have a three storey open atrium lobby. Everyone arrives at the front sidewalk level and proceeds from there.
Inside the lobby:
Delta is known for quality hotels. I hope this renovation will result in a better building that relates to the pedestrian environment in downtown Ottawa.
Note1: look up the Albert and Slater sides of the hotel … a notice a door to nowhere about fourteen floors up. It used to access the inside of a corporate logo sign, to change the lightbulbs without a crane. Don’t sleepwalk on that floor!
Note2: the worst remaining building of the Campeau no-front-door era is the NAC, which was designed for limousines to deliver fur-clad celebrities and politicos to the front door that is as far from the street and sidewalk as possible; while simultaneously being on the canal side but rending it impossible to actually see the canal from arriving car or the lobby. Alas, too many of our national buildings still hog riverside sites whilst simultaneously ignoring them (Nat’l Gallery, War Museum…). The functionaires’ offices though, have marvellous views.
Note3: one possible excuse for the lack of sidewalk amenity for its first forty years was the underground mall linking the various buildings. Arrive by taxi, shop and visit in the underground city. Some dreams don’t change. Remember the Blind Pig? Or any of the other bars and shops long gone? The still-future subway station?
Note4: do I see a certain similarity between these 60’s buildings and a certain inspired-by-Chicago condo proposed for Preston Street which is to sit … wait for it … on a seven storey black concrete block? Wave our hands in excitement now …