The rejuvenation of this national arts center beautifies the original Brutalist concrete with wood, and helps reconnect it to the city

In Canada‘s capital city, Ottawa, the National Arts Centre was created as a Centennial project, built in the Brutalist style.

It is a robust concrete structure of rigorous geometry but sits like a dark fortress in the centre of the nation’s capital.

Fifty years later, for Canada’s 150th anniversary, the National Arts Centre’s rejuvenation by Diamond Schmitt Architects reorients and opens up the building to the city.

The transformation of the NAC is an exploration in architectural transparency, relieving the opaque mass of the original and offering a new material palette.

Every design decision was based on the inherent logic embedded in the original Brutalist structure, as a reinterpretation of its geometry, texture, and rigor.

Building on the original geometry, the addition comprises three wings of public amenity and gathering spaces.

It is a transparent wrapping, revealing the creative activity inside.

Contrasting the original structure, the addition offers a new material palette of wood, steel, glass, and perforated bronze.

The Douglas fir glulam timber coffer system provides both structural support for the roof and the finished ceiling.

A highly coordinated prefabrication process met the demanding construction schedule and also showcases Canadian materials and ingenuity.

The geometry of the coffers is inspired by the original building and adds a layer of texture and visual warmth to the structure.

A customized hybrid steel/aluminum curtainwall system allows for larger panes of glass and a transparent building envelope.

For almost 50 years, the National Arts Centre has promoted and presented the arts from across the country and beyond in a four-stage complex that was inscrutable, where patrons had difficulty finding the entrance.

This transformation projects a new and welcoming presence to the city that connects and engages the public by revealing the activity within.

Designed to be Ottawa’s “living room”, the transparent lobby and public space activate this central location day and night with an animated presence.

The new hexagonal entry tower enables digital display on a transparent screen, showcasing artistic creation from across the country, reinforcing the NAC’s role as a national institution of excellence in the performing arts.

All images courtesy of Diamond Schmitt Architects.

Watch 3-minute video about the National Arts Center.

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