LeBetter Flats (part 1) Yellow, Brown … silver too

The NCC’s current LeBreton Flats project comes in for a lot of criticism.

I think it’s mostly drive-by criticism, with all the scatter gun impreciseness and alienation implied by the term. For some time now I ask people criticizing the yellow brick buildings on the Flats if they have actually walked around them.

Naah. Couldn’t bother. We even had a prominent real estate developer criticize them at at community planning meeting and He hadn’t actually been out there. Talk about shoot from the lip.

Here’s some pictures that show the buildings from the street and the grounds, but not from the JAM Commuter Expressway or Albert Street.


above: The indoor pool looks out through high windows onto parkland.


above: the buildings have a surprising number of acute angles, two large modern arches, and a lot of variation within the modern exterior vocabulary. Garage doors are concealed from the street. Blue tile walls announce entryways.


While neighbourhood planners wanted lower buildings (5 storey podiums with 10 storey towers) the city and NCC settled on 7 storey podiums and 14 storey towers. The courtyard arrangement has been au courant in world planning circles for the last decade and is still going strong. It is the style adopted for the Distillery in the Toronto and the Isles.ca on the Ottawa River (more on that in a few days). Not unexpectedly, Claridge wants to trade-in some of the next planned buildings for much taller ones.

I think one major reason for the negative reaction to the buildings has been the remoteness of the site with little surrounding context, and the unusual yellow and brown brick (a colour palette mandated by the NCC, not the developer). The modern style was jarring at first, and some people still find the style (for example, beside the Chateau Laurier) harsh, but numerous other similar style buildings have popped up all over the city (Westboro, Bank Street, Lansdowne Park). They sold quickly, so at least one segment of the population likes them enough to risk their family finances.

There are no historic, industrial, converted, or older buildings nearby. The War Museum is also relentlessly modern. All the new buildings on the Flats have green roofs.

The two storey ground floor units did not sell in the first phases; and were converted to two smaller units that did sell. These ones are shown facing Fleet Street pedestrian walkway with its sad temporary landscaping:



I don’t think the ground floor walk out units were especially well handled, either. The patios and windows lack privacy, although that might improve as the living green fences mature:


A number of other condo buildings have faced the same issue (the all concrete construction is too expensive for the townhouse-style units and buyers are willing to travel to elsewhere to buy cheaper stick-built towns). Promised townhouse units also disappeared from Mastercraft’s Soho  Champagne in favour of walkout ground floor small apartments. Domicile’s towns as part of the HOM project are still on the market a year later, now with revised pricing.

Claridge is trying two storey units again on the Flats in their latest building, as well as stacked townhouses in a hybrid combination of wood and concrete construction:


The wooden stacked towns shown in the distance, under construction, are supposed to be repeated several times on the adjacent streets, giving a low rise core to the centre of the neighbourhood, with taller buildings on the perimeter.


It takes several years for residents of new buildings to settle in and start to take ownership of the building exterior and its grounds. We see fresh evidence of this in the first yellow brick building, where residents have just added a more urban edge up to the sidewalk:



Residents have personalized the patio spaces:



However, too many of the public landscaped spaces still look uncared for and sad. I think they will improve as residents involve themselves in landscaping and grounds committees. Many of the initial home sales were to speculators / investors, and tenants may not be so involved.

The newest buildings on the Flats are pretty much being built out to the approved master plan of several years ago. A four storey building got rezoned to six, then eight floors. Materials and finishes used as accents in the first buildings get more employment in the subsequent buildings to provide a theme and variation, a consistency of palette with difference in application.

The triangular building shown below is brown brick on two sides, silver metal on the third. Notice how the balconies grow larger as one goes upwards.



Invisible to the drive by critics on the highway, but very visible on foot, are the coloured glass tiles on certain accent walls. The first buildings used pale blue tiles (shown on a picture above) ; the newest one offers glossy black glass tiles to contrast the metal cladding. The worker below is touching up the glass tile wall:



I am not a fan of the brown brick. Nor much of the yellow. But the architecture itself is coming together to make an interesting cohesive whole.




One of the brown brick buildings now under construction is actually yellow on its fourth side:


In a clever attempt to give variation in building size, one wing of a larger building looks like a much smaller building, with different exterior metal cladding from its brick counterpart, but connected to its elevator and services via a series of thin bridges:


Once landscaping is in, they might actually create the impression of different buildings of different sizes and age. The initial yellow building created an image of big, blocky mega structures. But this impression is not supported by walking around the buildings and by the variety of building shapes now constructed: trapezoid, triangular, acute angled, arched, quarter-circle curved, stepped, etc,

And the residents have been busy:



While I think the buildings on the Flats look better than they are generally considered to be now, and will very slow win grudging acceptance, the NCC / City development plan is still deficient. More in part 2.

3 thoughts on “LeBetter Flats (part 1) Yellow, Brown … silver too

  1. Agree. I am one of 8 people who actually thought the first building was pretty good. My guess is folks in Ottawa will only tolerate red brick, and the yellow was just too much. I think it will wear well over time.
    The loneliness of the building has been the sore thumb and that will change too.

    Having given (insert developer name here) their due, I am still waiting for their 20% affordable housing to appear and wouldn’t it be nice if it wasn’t just 80 bachelor rental/condos waiting to get sold in 10 years or whatever. Throwing out the challenge to (insert developer name here)!

    1. I gather many of the condos do fit the city’s definition of affordable housing. Some social housing is scheduled for building #8, which I discuss in tomorrow’s story. However, that building cannot be constructed yet as it is held hostage to rebuilding Booth which has been delayed … and delayed … and delayed. Stay tuned.

  2. I remember walking down to the War Museum in January a couple of years ago. I thought the LeBreton condos looked really depressing, out there alone in windswept fields. I can’t imagine condo residents walking to the grocery store in the winter. It seems to me they need to drive everywhere, just like in suburbia!

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