In 2011, PCL began a seven-year labor of love to preserve West Block, the oldest of the three heritage buildings that form Canada’s Parliament Hill. The building required extensive renovations to meet the needs of the Canadian government and visitors from around the world.
West Block houses ministers, members of Parliament and their employees, and encompasses committee rooms and an important ceremonial space — the Confederation Room. This historical renovation project includes the rehabilitation and creation of new space to the four-story building and the construction of the new underground Visitor Welcome Centre.
Through every step of this project we worked closely with architects to conserve West Block’s unmistakable historical charm. We preserved or recreated original 1865 heritage finishes throughout, upgrading plaster, flooring and handrails, and built historically accurate energy-efficient windows to replace the originals.
We removed and replaced all building systems and the existing copper roof. As part of a seismic upgrade, our team filled in all flues and fireplaces with brick to ensure the building’s structural integrity.
A new 25,000-square-foot curved glass roof covers the central courtyard. This enormous roof doubles the size of West Block and allows the courtyard to serve as the temporary chamber for the House of Commons, Canada’s elected federal law-making body. The design of the steel supporting structure replicates the effect of trees that extend upward from the floor and whose branches hold a triple-glazed roof — the result is a completely self-supported structure independent of the existing building.
The separation between the glass roof and building allows the roof to move without touching the old structure, protecting the building’s heritage elements from thermal movement and wind. Although the modern roof was a substantial addition, its low profile hides it from outside perspectives –designed to preserve the historical aesthetic of the original Parliament building.
Our careful attention to maintaining the historical appearance of West Block extended to every stone. Over 140,000 masonry stones make up West Block, half of which had to be removed, numbered and reinstalled. The stones were cleaned using state-of-the-art laser technology, and were repaired before returning each to its original spot. It was critical that we did the stone reparations in such a way as to maintain as much of the heritage fabric as possible.
To create space without disrupting the historic façade, the project team looked underground. A brand-new visitor center beneath West Block now connects visitors to the main part of the building and will eventually connect to the Centre and East Blocks, the other two Parliament buildings. The modern, four-level, 60,000-square-foot visitors’ facility acts as the public entrance to Parliament Hill.
The renovation is part of the Government of Canada’s Long Term Vision and Plan for the Parliamentary Precinct. West Block will serve as the interim House of Commons for the next decade while PCL undertakes the massive restoration and rehabilitation of Centre Block — the largest and most complex heritage restoration in Canada’s history.