Description of Historic Place
The Wellington Building is a six-storey office block, prominently located on the south side of Wellington Street facing Parliament Hill. The original 1927 building has three principal facades, on Wellington, Bank and Sparks, all in a monumental colonnaded Beaux-Arts style. Two upper storeys and a side extension were added in the late 1950s, in a more austere classical vocabulary.
The Wellington Building is a “Recognized” Federal Heritage Building in part because of its historical associations, but primarily because of its architectural and environmental value.
Originally built as the Canadian headquarters for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, the largest American firm of its kind in the early 20th Century, the Wellington Building testifies to the prominent role of the company in the development of the life insurance industry in Canada. The building’s construction also coincides with the emergence of Ottawa as a regional commercial centre during this period. Initially associated with other prestigious financial institutions along Sparks and Wellington Streets, the building was taken over by the federal government in the 1970s and is now associated with the House of Commons.
Designed by the noted American architect D. Everett Waid, in collaboration with his Ottawa counterpart, J.A. Ewart, the 1927 building is a sophisticated example of Beaux-Arts design, a style strongly favored by American institutions at the time. The Beaux-Arts style is expressed here in both the monumental symmetrical composition of the exterior facades and in the axial arrangement of its ground floor public spaces. These public spaces, including a celebrated entrance mural, display a high quality of workmanship and materials. At the time of its construction, the building was an example of advanced thinking with regards to efficient office planning for clerical work areas and a concern for health in the workplace. Later layers from the 1950s, in a more austere and less successful classical modernist style, reflect the company’s success and growth.
Prominently located at the intersection of Bank and Wellington Streets, the Wellington Building strongly contributes to the formality, prestige and monumentality of the building line facing Parliament Hill and to its predominantly classical design, which counterbalances the neo-gothic character of the Parliament buildings. On the opposite Sparks Street elevation, smaller scale retail spaces remain an integral part of the street’s vitality. Because of its monumental design, scale and location, the building is a familiar landmark within the city.
Dana Johnston, Metropolitan Life Assurance Building/Wellington Building, Federal Heritage Building Review Office Historic Report, 85-031; Wellington Building, Ottawa, Ontario. Heritage Character Statement, 85-031.
The character-defining elements of the Wellington Building should be respected.
The quality of its Beaux Arts design, as displayed in:
-the formalism, monumental scale and sculptural richness of the main, side and rear elevations of the 1927 building, including their symmetrical and balanced proportions and clear three-part composition - a strong base storey with round-headed openings, a grand three-storey centre portion marked by Corinthian colonnades and pilasters, and a substantial cornice and parapet;
-the axial sequence of public circulation spaces on the ground floor, emphasized by the rich decorative scheme.
The building’s good functional design and corresponding quality of materials and craftsmanship, as manifested in:
-the open concept floor plan with centrally located service and vertical transport cores;
-the use of quality finish materials on the exterior, including the smooth Indiana limestone cladding with granite base and the bronze grilles and spandrel panels;
-the use of noble finishes in the primary interior public spaces, including the remarkable vestibule mosaic, the marble walls and detailing, and the bronze fittings (wall sconces, doors, grilles);
-the compatible finishes of the service and vertical transport cores, including the slate treads, bronze handrails, and marble washroom partitions;
-certain elements of the added layers of the 1950s, including black marble and stainless steel decorative highlights.
The manner in which the building contributes to the prestigious institutional character of the area, and helps define the transition from the Parliamentary and institutional character of Wellington to the more civic and commercial character of Sparks:
-the building’s formality and monumental scale, which anchor the intersection of Wellington and Bank;
-the presence of retail along Sparks Street, contributing to the vitality of that corridor and yet compatible with the primary function of the building as office space.