Client: National Gallery of Canada | Location: Ottawa, Canada | Budget: $50,000 | Completed: 2017

National Gallery of Canada

The Jardin Fred & Elizabeth Fountain Garden Court was redesigned by Enns Gauthier Landscape Architects with Cornelia Oberlander in 2018. The design consists of a major landscape intervention in the middle of the existing garden court, located adjacent to the Canadian and Indegienous Galleries, which underwent a major renovation to mark the 30th anniversary of the Gallery, designed by award winning architect Moshe Safdie.

The design seeks to bring the iconic Canadian Shield Landscape into the gallery and with that, a greater sense of Canada’s vast landscape.

Oberlander and Safdie’s origial design “…was sharply geometric, with plants aligned in diagonal rows. “It was very crisp, perfectly suited to the times.”

But the new design had to be about something different.

“It’s meant to be a calm, reflective space,” says Gauthier, and the journey to design the Garden Court as an interlude in the process of exploring the country’s most revered artistic expressions, quickly led them to a design response that highlited the site itself, referncing the Ottawa River valley and Nepean Point – the spectacular promontory upon which the gallery is sited and a fitting reference for Canadian artists, many of whom were inspired by these same landscapes.

As Gauthier points out, institutions increasingly aim to respect their local contexts. “There’s been a pretty dramatic shift over the past two decades around trying to root your design to the site in a way that’s authentic, and reasonable, and real,” he says. “… the need for institutions to look like they’re rooted in place.”

Bryce led the design team through a research phase in order to develop a plant and materials palette that woud thrive in the climate controlled gallery. “We went through a hundred species trying to find plants that would mimic or look aesthetically like the Nepean Point landscape”, says Gauthier.

The Garden Court rests on a suspended slab, below which is used for storage of some of the country’s most iconic art piecess and artefacts. The space was carefully studied and a range of building technolgoies, such as the use of voiding and geotextiles were studied, while careful phasing plans were developped in order to allow the construction to proceed without impeding the day-to-day functions of the gallery.

The Garden Court opened to the public on April 25th, 2018.

Article Credit for all quotations:




Article Credits from Zinio Magazine (January 2019)

The National Gallery of Canada, a chiseled glass-and-concrete cathedral to the arts that rests on a bluff above the Ottawa River in the nation’s capital, is one of the architect Moshe Safdie’s most celebrated designs. And its half-wild garden of lichen, stone, and contorted pines is a must-see for acolytes of Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, FASLA, Canada’s most celebrated landscape architect. When the doors first opened in 1988, patrons were welcomed into a 1,855-square-foot interior courtyard designed by Oberlander, planted with fig trees and bromeliads arranged on a crisp, diagonal grid.

The design of the courtyard garden was explicitly modernist and monastic – the courtyard serves as the foyer for a historic chapel that has been reconstructed inside the gallery, where Janet Cardiff’s Forty-Part Motet has been installed. This winter, the courtyard garden was redesigned: The monastic vibe remains, but the right angles have been replaced by the amorphous forms of a moss-covered boulder. “The new courtyard depicts the primitive grasses, mosses, and lichens of the escarpment above the Ottawa River,” says Oberlander when I reach her by phone at her Vancouver home. “Our challenge was to echo this ancient landscape indoors.”

“We spent a lot of time searching for indoor plants that look and feel as if they were from a local native landscape,” explains Bryce Gauthier of Enns Gauthier Landscape Architects, who served as the project lead in collaboration with Oberlander. “When Cornelia and I went to select the plants, she curated each species based on what she felt would match her design concept.”

This proved to be one of many challenges in renovating a garden in the midst of more than 75,000 works of art. Every plant was quarantined and inspected for any insects that might hitch a ride and attempt to invade the frames of the museum’s extensive collection of Canadian and indigenous art, and each of the arched entryways that lead away from the multilevel atrium above the courtyard was sealed off to prevent material from drifting into the gallery’s halls.

The soil and drain rock of the original garden were repurposed, but much shifting around was required to install and create undulating topography out of what was previously a flat plane. The garden resides in a six-foot-deep sunken basin lined with a membrane atop a suspended concrete slab, which could not accommodate a single pound of extra weight. Gauthier had to calculate the weight of the boulders and remove an equivalent weight in soil and drain rock. Otherwise, that suspended slab, “which, frighteningly, is over the art storage area,” Gauthier says, could be compromised. “So there was really no margin for error.”

After months of careful choreography, the installation was carried out over a two-week period while the gallery was closed. Oberlander is pleased with the final results. “Visitors are so happy to have this beautiful indoor green space when it is snowy and cold outside,” she says. “It’s a place where they can sit at the edge of the garden and just meditate.”

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