Description of Historic Place
The Van Steenburgh and Polaris Buildings at The Bedford Institute of Oceanography are large, simple and unadorned structures, which feature regular elevations characterized by a rationalized grid pattern of windows and spandrel panels. They are composed of two parallel 6-stories rectangular wings, set into a slope and linked by a central vertical entrance and vertical circulation tower. The Van Steenburgh and Polaris Buildings at The Bedford Institute of Oceanography form one edge of an interior courtyard and the core of the Bedford Center of Oceanography. Overlooking the waterfront, the buildings are located on a rise of ground between the Bedford Basin and the MacKay Bridge, at the entrance to the narrows of Halifax Harbour. The designations are confined to the footprints of the buildings.
The Van Steenburgh and Polaris Buildings at The Bedford Institute of Oceanography are Recognized Federal Heritage Buildings because of their historical associations, and their architectural and environmental values.
Located at the core of the world-renowned Bedford Institute for Oceanography, the Van Steenburgh and Polaris Buildings at The Bedford Institute of Oceanography are the best examples of federal involvement in oceanography and marine resource research in Canada. The Institute’s first facilities, the buildings witnessed the expansion and their increasing leadership in the field. Built in the early 1960s, they also illustrates the growth of Darthmouth’s north end at a time when the area was undergoing major industrial, institutional and residential development.
Good examples of a standard research building dating from the early 1960s, Van Steenburgh and Polaris Buildings at The Bedford Institute of Oceanography consist of simple unadorned designs typical of the federal government’s post-war aesthetics for its institutional buildings. The buildings also constitute a very good example of the work of the renowned architectural partnership of Duffus, Romans, Kundzins, Rounsefell, Ltd. No doubt a prestigious commission, it would have helped launch the firm’s career. Their good, standard layout allowed for the separation of office and laboratories and has proven adaptable and flexible over time.
As the imposing centerpiece of the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, the Van Steenburgh and Polaris Buildings at The Bedford Institute of Oceanography reinforce the homogenous institutional character of the campus. Aside from the international reputation enjoyed by the institution, and because of its prominence on site and high visibility from the water, the Van Steenburgh and Polaris Buildings at The Bedford Institute of Oceanography act as a familiar visual landmark at a local level.
Robert Burns PhD., Heritage Resources Consulting, The Van Steenburgh and Polaris Buildings, Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Halifax Regional Municipality (Dartmouth), Nova Scotia. Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office Report 03-081; Van Steenburgh and Polaris Building, Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Heritage Character Statement 03-081.
The character-defining elements of the Van Steenburgh and Polaris Buildings at The Bedford Institute of Oceanography should be respected.
The simple and conservative modern design, good functional design, and good quality craftsmanship and materials, as demonstrated in:
-the orthogonal massing and strong horizontality of the building, modulated by the vertical link between both wings;
-the spare, unadorned quality of the exterior, which reflects the building’s pragmatic design approach and clean-lined modern aesthetic ideal;
-the regular pattern of the exterior elevations, composed of a band of horizontal windows including one large fixed window flanked by an operable one-over-one sash, horizontal spandrel panels and vertical sandstone pilasters which frame every bay;
-the use of a simple and straightforward combination of traditional and modern materials, which have endured well;
-later additions and modifications to the building, including the top two stories of the Polaris wing and extension of the Van Steenburgh wing, which attest to its adaptability;
The manner in which the buildings reinforce the homogenous institutional character of the Bedford Institute campus:
-the relationship of the building to the remainder of the Bedford Institute complex, as its tallest and most prominent component; and,
-the building’s relatively open relationship to the waterfront, which contributes to its significance as a visual landmark.