At the core of many cities, museums contribute to both physical and social landscapes, opening up a world of culture and immersing the community in education, research and a deeper understanding of society. From a socio-economic standpoint, the rejuvenation and construction of museums can stimulate urban regeneration and bring new life into areas losing traditional economic base.
When it came time to renovate the nearly 50-year-old building that houses the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa—home to the largest collection of scientific and technological artifacts in Canada—designing the exterior architecture was as important as creating an interactive experience on the interior. The 80,000 square-foot exhibition space needed an impressive façade to represent the world-class experience contained within.
In 2015, architectural firm NORR Limited Ottawa was tasked with an ambitious schedule to complete renovations in time for Canada’s sesquicentennial (150th) celebrations in 2017. The goal was to provide visitors with a new, immersive experience in this high-traffic location in the heart of the nation’s capital. The museum owners also wanted to make sure they addressed the serious access, circulation and environmental issues that made the facility challenging to operate over the years.
The project required: envelope upgrades, new mechanical and electrical systems, seismic upgrades, new entrance facilities and overall aesthetic enhancements to the museum. Having previously worked with the Ceramitex Ventilated Façade System featuring Neolith by TheSize sintered stone slabs, Andrew Butler, former Lead Architect of NORR Limited Ottawa, proposed Ceramitex for the exterior façade. Ceramitex, manufactured by North American architectural facade systems provider, Elemex, is a rear-ventilated rainscreen that structurally adheres the slabs to an aluminum-framed system.
“One of the main challenges we had to deal with during the design and construction process was the complicated angles of the west and north façade of the museum,” said Andrew Butler. “Cutting of the panels to accommodate the roof parapet lines and north and west entrances was a well-conquered barrier by all parties involved. We also had to help educate the client on the superior properties of Neolith when other panel products were suggested as substitutes. No other substitute material would have been suitable for a national museum.”
Because of the extreme temperature differences and Canadian winters, as well as the very specific design needs, alternative materials like natural stone or fiber cement would not have stood up over time. “Being a public building, the durability, impact, scratch and graffiti resistance were important factors in the decision to use Ceramitex’s system featuring Neolith stone slabs,” said David Waugh, Elemex.
Combined with the unique mechanical installation of Ceramitex, the properties of Neolith slabs ensures long-lasting resilience and secure panel attachment without fear of cracking or splintering. Neolith's revolutionary sinterization process mimics the development of natural stone through high-pressure, high-temperature kilning. The thin 6mm, lightweight slabs have a near-zero porosity, making them resistant to stains, moisture, and exposure to all weather conditions. Once installed, the Ceramitex system provides a sleek, invisible façade without unsightly grout lines where sealing caulk often gets dirty and discolored.
The team selected the Arctic White design from Neolith’s Colorfeel collection, which allowed the client to use the façade as a 250-foot long projection screen. The Ceramitex system was integral in the ability to include a lighting package within the walls and for the non-typical panels and mitered corners.
Thanks to the highly-engineered Cermitex system featuring Neolith’s flawless sintered stone slabs, the NORR architectural team was able to develop sharp angles and smooth expanses throughout the building’s façade to achieve their ambitious design goals. Furthermore, the way in which the Ceramitex panels with Neolith slabs were hung on the horizontal structure provided for perfect flatness and aesthetic finish. Overall, the combination of both past and present is reflected in the spatial design, creating an atmosphere that brings the unique architecture of this Ottawa institution to life, while reflecting the world class experience inside.