The city of Ottawa is embedded in a wide network of culture and history. The proximity of wilderness to the city has led to a particular kind of territorial transformation over the centuries. Today, a system of parkways, as well as roads and waterways participate in the generation of overlapping urban fields in Ottawa. In an effort to develop an environment for cultural, social, and leisure-oriented interfacing, and to promote the concept of the site as a cultural incubator and national culture platform, this project proposes to intensify activity in the three-block competition area through the implementation of two parallel strategies which we called hydro-spine and episode circuit.
The project proposes that water be used in the project as a connective spine. The Rideau canal branches from the Ottawa River. We propose a strategy which involves branching off of the Rideau canal to create a small canal – the hydro-spine – which runs into the core area through a system of small locks, following Sparks street and bisecting the competition site. The hydro-spine constitutes a datum level for the experience of the inner city. As the topography in the core area is changing, a difference between water datum line and topography generates the beginning of new programmatic fields. The hydro-spine becomes an element of continuity and connectivity injected into the existing urban fabric of the competition site. This fabric consists of a mixture of historic buildings, post-second world war structures and vacant areas – or voids. The hydro-spine continues the city’s historical process of transforming territory into a kind of artificial nature – the interiorization of the natural within the artifice of the city. In this case, it is seen as an infrastructural measure which acts to establish connections and stimulate interaction between social, cultural, commercial, leisure-oriented and symbolic functions and activities. It is a conduit for urban living. The hydro-spine branches from the main “trunk” canal into smaller canals which lead towards the various spaces which constitute the episode circuit – spaces which are currently voids in the existing urban tissue.
Existing voids become the stage for spectacle. They form the episode circuit: public zones which are part of an urban mixture that moves between static program – basic programmatic provisions and parameters for a variety of cultural activities – and dynamic program – spectacle, performance, and experimentation. The episode circuit exists as a cultural interface for citizens: groups may apply to be granted residency in any one of the eight interior/exterior episode circuit zones for periods of four months to one year. Successful applicants will provide a program for the space according to their specific intentions, interests and expertise, creating an environment where their cultural vision and experiments can be shared with visitors.
The episode circuit zones are pre-programmed with parameters which derive from their existing spatial and contextual qualities. These parameters, along with climactic factors, influence the way the spaces are occupied, and it is anticipated that groups will capitalize on these qualities to collectively produce stimulating results.