A river runs near it: re-orienting the Carleton quad

The Rideau river near the Herzberg Building, Carleton University

Every five years or so, Carleton University revisits its master plan. The most recent draft edition was released in September 2009. Though the campus has long failed to take advantage of its spectacular setting, its administrators have always understood the power of the site, as most brochure shots of the institution are traditionally taken from the air. From this perspective you get a sense of the way Carleton relates to both the Rideau River and the Rideau Canal. On the ground the visual effect is much different. The site is  heavily insulated with ring roads and parkways which separate the campus from its natural setting. There have been sporadic attempts to connect portions of the campus to the surrounding waterways, but in the end, the powers-that-be have always judged that the ring road was of more importance than, for example, allowing the Loeb Building to reach out to the banks of the Rideau River.

Back when Carleton moved to its present campus, the main quad served as the heart of the campus, with three buildings providing its edges. They were the MacOdrum Library, the Tory Building, and Paterson Hall. On the fourth side, large cascading steps extended down from the high ground of the quad towards the canal. It set a very specific direction and emphasis for the quad space, something that acknowledged its unique site. However, this look only lasted until the construction of the Arts (Dunton) Tower, which began the process of filling the fourth side of the quad. This task was complete when the Azrieli Pavilion and Theatre were constructed between Dunton Tower and Tory Building. However, the strong sense of enclosure created by the present configuration may be coming to an end if innovative elements of the draft changes to the master plan are adopted.

The primary move of the draft plan is the removal of Paterson Hall, one of the earliest campus buildings. (Editor’s note: Paterson is the building marked “PA” in top left area of this campus map.) This would create a wide opening in the quad, linking it to the Rideau River, a critical part of the surrounding context. This move is expected to occur in a number of phases, the end result of which will be to fundamentally alter the nature of the way the heart of the campus is experienced. It offers the opportunity to add new buildings and to create a new terraced landscape down to the river. While this is a substantial alteration, it is rooted in the history of the campus, but rotated 180 degrees. This move also presents the opportunity to better integrate  the buildings that already exist along the ring road closest to the river.

Continuing with the theme of re-imagining the heart of the campus, the draft Master Plan also suggests establishing a new relationship between Dunton Tower and the Quad Level and the Library Road level. This will be accomplished by introducing a new multi-story structure surrounding the base of the tower. Adding to the benefit of this move is the potential of  greatly-enhanced natural light and greater levels of programming in the adjacent sections of the tunnels. Instead of mere passageways, the tunnels would become part of the connective tissue between the buildings, blurring the boundaries of where a building starts and the tunnels end. Given that the tunnels, for better or worse, are a defining element of the campus, it is important that any new structure acknowledges them and improves their role in campus life. This new base structure will also address shortcomings in the siting of Azrieli Pavilion and its relationship with Dunton Tower; the space between the two buildings is narrow and is not a hospitable space in its current configuration.

While the few moves described above are highlights, there are other noteworthy elements within the draft Master Plan. I would invite the readers to read it for themselves and post comments on their own reactions to the plan, good or bad.  As we’ve touched on, some of the proposed changes are significant and can only be accomplished over a period of time. But reorienting the quad has the potential to re-define the campus and the university for years to come.

photo by Christian Muise


  1. Correct spelling of the building’s name is “Paterson” Hall — Paterson, with one ‘t’

  2. Funny that you mentioned the ring roads and parkways and the way in which they cut off the river… I wrote about this recently on my blog, having just realized that it is no accident that all the waterways are lined with parkways, and thus hard to get to. I’m assuming, from what I can tell, that when the NCC added 90km of scenic drives along all the waterways (in the fifties and sixties, from what I can tell), it’s because they expected people to go ‘motoring’ along them, and not to access them on foot.

    The result, though, is a half-dozen or so spots along the Canal where skaters (in particular) are forced to scurry across Colonel By or Queen Elizabeth at unmarked, unposted, unlit pedestrian crossings (at Somerset, Bank, Carleton, etc.) to get to the canal.

    I think there’s some of the same mentality at work cutting Carleton off from its natural setting. I loved sitting by the rapids on the river when I was at Carleton – but you do have to run across the road to get there. And if you want to use the bike paths… you have to find your way across the river entirely, at Bronson or Hog’s Back. (Come to think of it, a reasonable bike route through campus wouldn’t be a bad idea either…)

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