Photo Equatorial Building
Classified Federal Heritage Building
(© Department of Energy, Mines and Resources / Ministère de l'Énergie, des Mines et des Ressources, 1992.)
Central Experimental Farm National Historic Site of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario
Treasury Board Policy on Management of Real Property
1914 to 1914
Event, Person, Organization:
David Ewart, Chief Architect of the Department of Public Works
Building No. 9
Natural Resources Canada
FHBRO Report Reference:
Description of Historic Place
The Photo Equatorial Building, also known as Building No. 9, is a small, symmetrical, one-storey, stone building that features a rusticated stone base, a crenellated cornice, round glazed window openings, and stone brackets supporting a retractable copper dome. Located at the north edge of the Central Experimental Farm National Historic Site of Canada on a campus-like site bounded by Carling Avenue and Observatory Drive, the Photo Equatorial Building forms a picturesque ensemble with the Dominion Observatory (1902-04) and the South Azimuth building (1912). The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.
The Photo Equatorial Building is a Classified Federal Heritage Building because of its historical associations, and its architectural and environmental values.
The Photo Equatorial Building is considered to be an extension of the Dominion Observatory due to the fact that it once played a supporting role in the Observatory’s scientific endeavours and sheltered astronomical equipment. As such, it is one of the best examples of the important historic theme of the advancement of pure and applied scientific research at the national level in Canada. Established to aid and improve the survey work of western Canada through the investigation and application of positional astronomy, the Observatory also served as a world-class centre for astronomical and geophysical research, and developed a national profile as the source of Dominion Observatory Official Time. The Photo Equatorial Building was built specifically to house the observatory’s stellar camera.
The Dominion Observatory is one of four major public buildings constructed in Ottawa during the expansionist years of the Wilfrid Laurier government as part of Laurier’s efforts to turn Ottawa into the –Washington of the north-, and heralded Ottawa’s transformation from a lumber town to a capital city. Scientists of national standing directly associated with the Observatory include its co-founders William Frederick King and Otto Julius Klotz, along with John Stanley Plaskett.
The Photo Equatorial is an excellent example of an eclectic blend of Romanesque Revival and Edwardian Classicist styles. Built to shelter astronomical equipment, the Photo Equatorial Building is an elegant, octagonal building that resembles an English Baroque tempietto. Constructed of the highest quality materials and craftsmanship, the Photo Equatorial Building is characterized by a retractable, hemispherical copper dome, and a rich and vibrant palette of stone including a rusticated limestone base, rock-faced variegated Nepean sandstone walls and dressed red Sackville sandstone quoins and window and doors surrounds.
The Photo Equatorial Building reinforces the picturesque character of the campus-like setting of the observatory within the Central Experimental Farm, by virtue of its distinctive design and materials. An essential part of the harmonious ensemble that includes the Dominion Observatory and South Azimuth buildings, the Photo Equatorial Building has long been familiar to the residents of Ottawa as part of the Dominion Observatory campus.
Sources: Jacqueline Hucker, Dominion Observatory, South Azimuth and Photo Equatorial buildings, Ottawa, Ontario. Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office Report 92-35, 92-41, 92-42; Dominion Observatory, South Azimuth and Photo Equatorial buildings, Ottawa, Ontario. Heritage Character Statement 92-35, 92-41, 92-42.
The following character-defining elements of the Photo Equatorial Building should be respected.
Its eclectic blend of Romanesque Revival and Edwardian Classicist styles, excellent functional design, and extremely high quality materials and craftsmanship as manifested in: the form and symmetrical composition of the building; the distinctive and vibrant exterior treatment which is characterized by a rusticated limestone base, rock-faced variegated Nepean sandstone walls, and a contrasting smooth, red Sackville sandstone cornice and window and door surrounds; the building’s crenellated stone cornice; the roof level’s red Sackville sandstone base and brackets which support the retractable, hemispherical copper dome; and, the round glazed upper level windows.
The manner in which the building reinforces the picturesque character of the observatory’s campus-like setting within the Central Experimental Farm, as evidenced in: its distinctive design, materials and location which contribute to the harmonious relationship between the Dominion Observatory and South Azimuth Buildings as a picturesque ensemble.
Heritage Character Statement
The heritage character statement was developed by FHBRO to explain the reasons for the designation of a federal heritage building and what it is about the building that makes it significant (the heritage character). It is a key reference document for anyone involved in planning interventions to federal heritage buildings and is used by FHBRO in their review of interventions.
HERITAGE CHARACTER STATEMENT
Dominion Observatory, South Azimuth Building and Photo Equatorial Building
Central Experimental Farm
The Dominion Observatory was built in 1902-04 to the designs of David Ewart, Chief Architect of the Department of Public Works from 1896 to 1914. The South Azimuth building (1912) and the Photo Equatorial building (1914) are related structures. The observatory is now occupied by the Geological Survey of Canada. Energy, Mines and Resources is the custodial department. See FHBRO Building Report 92-35, 92-41 and 92-42.
Reasons for Designation
The Dominion Observatory and its associated structures were designated Classified because of the architectural and historical significance of the ensemble, and also for environmental reasons.
One of four major public buildings constructed in Ottawa during the expansionist years of the Wilfrid Laurier government, the Dominion Observatory possesses a vibrancy not found in other Ottawa federal buildings of this period. Because it was intended to stand on Parliament Hill, the building was personally designed by Chief Architect Ewart. A masterful blend of Romanesque Revival and Edwardian Classicism, the design combines references to institutes of higher learning with a contemporary taste for grandiloquent classical buildings with interesting domes. The South Azimuth building and the Photo Equatorial building, which played supporting roles in the observatory's scientific endeavours, were given the same elaborate exterior treatment.
Historically, the observatory embodies the theme of pure and applied research at the national level, recalling the role of astronomy in the survey of western Canada and world class work in astronomy and geophysics, as well as a national profile as the source of Dominion Observatory Official Time. Scientists of national standing directly associated with the observatory include William Frederick King, Otto Julius Klotz and John Stanley Plaskett.
The intrinsic value of the three buildings is enhanced by the integrity of their campus-like setting and the harmonious relationship with the surrounding Central Experimental Farm.
Character Defining Elements
The heritage character of the Dominion Observatory resides in the building's masterful
marriage of aesthetics and functional requirements, and in the robust materials, colours
and textures that distinguish its exterior. Smooth red Sackville sandstone provides a strong contrast to the rock-faced variegated Nepean sandstone walls, boldly outlining the windows and doors and running in uninterrupted string courses around the building. Copper and decorative ironwork provide additional visual interest.
The four-storey tower is the architectural and scientific focus of the building, accommodating the main entrance as well as the 13 foot diameter pier which once supported the telescope. It possesses the lion's share of the building's ornamentation: foliated capitals flank the Romanesque entrance and separate the windows of the drum; incised lettering and a carved royal coat of arms surmount the entrance; a tightly packed line of brackets supports the drum balcony, which is encircled by a balustrade designed to match the ironwork of the Parliament buildings; and the large clock face at the center of drum recalls the observatory's former timekeeping function. The tower culminates in the retractable copper dome, which is still in good working order.
The tower anchors two flat-roofed wings with identical facades, creating a strong impression of symmetry and order that should not be compromised.
The observatory is relatively intact in its overall appearance, major interventions notwithstanding: an elevator shaft added in the 1960s projects through the roof behind the dome, two large chimney stacks have been removed, and windows and doors have been replaced with inappropriate metal units. Because the facade was so carefully designed, all of its features merit maintenance and preservation. The stone and copper work in particular require careful conservation. Consideration should be given to returning to windows matching the configuration seen in early photographs, and to alleviating the visual impact of the elevator shaft.
The interior is in excellent condition. The original layout, as well as features that define its early government office character - yellow brick walls, ceramic tile floors, moulded baseboards, original light fixtures and paneled office doors with transom lights - are intact and merit preservation. The removal of wrought iron railings from the curved staircase to accommodate the elevator shaft is unfortunate. The extant section of rail at top of stairs must be retained as a record of the original configuration.
The South Azimuth building and the Photo Equatorial building are constructed of the same materials as the observatory, and suffer from neglect. The buildings should be stabilized and features that recall their earlier scientific role preserved, such as the South Azimuth building's slate louvers and the stairs leading to the dome of the Photo Equatorial building.
The three buildings form a picturesque ensemble that harmonizes with the natural setting of the Experimental Farm. A 1946 aerial photograph illustrates the original sinuous circulation pattern, which is largely intact, as well as whimsical star-shaped flower beds that no longer exist. Management of the landscape should be in keeping with early patterns.