Château Laurier reno doesn’t fly with activists

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Kelsey Curtis, Centretown News

CENTRETOWN NEWS / Anna Carroll
CENTRETOWN NEWS / Anna Carroll

A local bird conservation group had ruffled feathers after seeing the proposed renovations for the Fairmont Château Laurier — a controversial glass and steel expansion that could be deadly for Ottawa’s avian population.

Safe Wings Ottawa is a volunteer-run organization that monitors buildings for bird collisions, rescues the injured and collects the dead. 

The group hopes that when the hotel addition is built, it will include proven bird-friendly designs to prevent the animals from flying into glass walls and windows.

Anouk Hoedeman, coordinator of Safe Wings Ottawa, added the Château Laurier to the long list of public institutions she’s advised to consider bird friendly designs.

“When it comes to public buildings, I’m not shy about saying that the National Arts Centre is going to be very bad, the Bank of Canada building is terrible, and the National Gallery is one of the worst buildings around.” 

Without adopting bird-friendly practices, such as etched glass or safety film, birds are unable to recognize that reflecting glass is an illusion of the sky, and that clear glass is a potentially fatal barrier to what seems like inviting indoor vegetation. 

These threats cause them to strike the glass and leads to the death of an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 birds per year in Ottawa, said Hoedeman. 

Robert Cadeau, a designer with Toronto-based ArchitectAlliance, which is working on the Château Laurier project, confirmed that the renovations for the iconic hotel will be bird-friendly. This would be achieved, he said, by using glass with a low tint and ceramic frit, which allows birds to recognize the surface of the glass.

Hoedeman is working with local politicians to encourage the development of bird-friendly building designs in Ottawa. 

Hoedeman said she believes that despite attempts to be bird-friendly, the ongoing NAC renovations – which are meant to open the front of the bunker- like building with a new glass exterior facing Elgin Street – will likely cause the building to “kill more birds than it ever did in the past.”

“I’ve learned to like the concrete bunker buildings,” she said, joking about the NAC’s original design. “I don’t worry about them killing birds.” 

Jennifer Mallard, the Diamond-Schmitt architect working on the NAC renovation, said bird-friendly designs have been carefully incorporated into the project, and that the features were approved by the NAC and the National Capital Commission. 

“We compared guidelines from Toronto, San Francisco, New York and half a dozen other cities to make a recommendation for bird-friendly design,” said Mallard. 

Hoedeman still doesn’t think that the frit pattern is dense enough for current best practice, which has a maximum spacing of five centimeters vertically, and between five and 10 centimeters horizontally. 

Bird-friendly design policies were borrowed from other cities because there are no regulations that enforce these standards in Ottawa. If it were up to Hoedeman, there would be. 

She has been working with local politicians to help encourage the development of framework for bird-friendly building designs in Ottawa. 

Hoedeman also hopes to initiate an Ottawa Bird Strategy, similar to one in Vancouver, which would act as an all-encompassing document to address different ways to protect birds in the city. 

In the meantime, Hoedeman said she is using her limited resources, volunteers and time to help spread awareness of the issue.

“We’re not trying to antagonize anybody. We want people to work with us,” she said. “We want people to understand the problem and want to make changes. We’re not trying to shame anybody or bully them into doing something. We like to use a gentle approach to win over hearts and minds.”