National Film Board
Classified Federal Heritage Building
© Public Works and Government Services Canada / Travaux publics et Services gouvernementaux Canada, 1998.
3155, Côte-de-Liesse road, Saint-Laurent, Quebec
Treasury Board Policy on Management of Real Property
1953 to 1956
1965 to 1968
Event, Person, Organization:
Ross, Patterson, Townsend and Fish
Blocks A, B, C, D & D
Public Works and Government Services Canada
FHBRO Report Reference:
Description of Historic Place
Situated in the industrial belt of the Saint-Laurent borough, adjacent to the Metropolitan expressway, the National Film Board complex consists of six interconnected modern blocks with exterior cladding of buff-coloured brick. Each block serves a different function ranging from administration offices to film production facilities and storage. The National Film Board buildings show a frontal emphasis and symmetry and have a box like quality. Horizontal lines, flat roofs and ribbon windows are the common motifs. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.
The National Film Board is a Classified Federal Heritage Buildings because of its historical associations, and its architectural and environmental values.
The National Film Board is one of the best examples of a structure associated with government promotion of Canadian filmmaking. Bringing talented filmmakers together in one place, it became a centre of avant-garde creativity and pioneering technical innovation encouraged the emergence of Canadian cinematography and was the prime mover of Canada’s film industry. The National Film Board is the most highly regarded of all government cinematography institutions in the industrialized world.
The National Film Board is a very good example of a Modern structure. The Montreal firm of Ross, Patterson, Townsend and Fish designed the complex. The National Film Board demonstrates very good quality of workmanship in the handling of structural steel and reinforced concrete to emphasize soundproofing necessary in film production.
The National Film Board is situated in the industrial belt of Saint-Laurent borough adjacent to the Metropolitan expressway. The complex consists of six interconnected blocks with symmetrical lanes, walkways, parking areas, and entrances connecting them. The National Film Board reinforces the present character of the area, and is familiar to the neighbourhood.
Sources: Martin Dubois, Patri-Arch, Office national du Film, 3155, chemin de la Côte-de Liesse, Saint-Laurent, Québec. Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office Report 98-026; National Film Board, 3155 Côte-de Liesse Road, Saint-Laurent, Québec. Heritage Character Statement 98-026.
The following character-defining elements of the National Film Board should be respected.
The manner in which the building reinforces the present character of Saint-Laurent Position Hill: the horizontal massing of the façade, emphasized by the flat roof and ribbon windows; the vertical emphasis of the granite framed entrance; the entrance to the auditorium, with the cantilevered second floor, the entrance door hood and the vertically-aligned joints in the brick facing; the regularity and symmetry of the interior, with an open entrance lobby that opens onto a central courtyard; the functional interior space of the large sound stage in block C; and, the details such as the brick facing.
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.
The original National Film Board (NFB) complex was constructed from 1953 to 1956 based on plans prepared by the Montréal firm of Ross, Patterson, Townsend & Fish. Two more buildings were added in 1965 and 1968. Public Works and Government Services Canada is the custodian. See FHBRO Report No. 98-28.
Reasons for Designation
Buildings A, B, C, D and E of the NFB complex have been designated Classified because of their history, their architecture and their environment.
The NFB promoted the emergence of Canadian cinematography by bringing talented filmmakers together in one place, thereby becoming a centre of avant-garde creativity and pioneering technical innovation. It was the prime mover of Canada’s film industry. The NFB is the most highly regarded of all government cinematography institutions in the industrialized world.
The NFB complex was built at a time of transition between conservatism of form and the avant-garde. The frontal emphasis and symmetry reflect the conservative approach to form, while modernism is expressed in the absence of ornament, horizontal lines, flat roofs and ribbon windows. The complex was designed by the Montréal firm of Ross, Patterson, Townsend & Fish, and was one of their major contracts.
The layout of the grounds in front of the complex has changed little over the years. Buildings A, B and C are an imposing but sober presence alongside the expressway and are readily recognizable to passing drivers.
Character Defining Elements
The heritage character of the buildings A, B, C, D and E of the NFB complex resides in the significant place it occupies in the evolution of modern architectural style and in the quality of materials, architectural details and workmanship.
The NFB complex consists of six connected buildings; this statement applies to five of those buildings (Buildings A, B, C, D and E). Each building serves a specific purpose. The Norman McLaren Building (Bldg. A) houses most of the administrative offices, a few studios, an auditorium and a cafeteria. Building B contains laboratories, small theatres, and mechanical equipment. The film production facilities, including the main sound stage, are in Building C. Building D houses animation studios, and Building E is a film storage vault.
The form of the buildings is dictated by their function. The office area with its many windows provides repetition and symmetry within the facade. The sound stage is simply a large box with no windows. Horizontal movement in the complex as a whole is created by its low height and extensive flat roofs. The exterior cladding of buff-coloured brick, the aluminum doors and windows, and the limestone lintels and sills should be preserved to retain the original appearance of the complex.
Building A comprises four wings built around a courtyard. The horizontal character of the facades is created by the flat roof and ribbon windows. Only the granite-framed main entrance creates vertical movement on the facade. This composition is typical of the modernist style and should not be altered. The entrance to the auditorium also merits special attention, with the cantilevered second floor, the entrance-door hood, and the vertically-aligned joints in the brick facing. Inside, the plan is characterized by regularity and symmetry, and by the open entrance lobby, which was renovated in 1988. The lobby’s public function called for a more dramatic staircase and natural lighting, which is provided by the large windows on either side of the building. This openness should be retained.
The architecture of Building B is similar to that of Building A. The facing of buff brick, the flat roof and ribbon windows are character defining elements which must be preserved to maintain the uniform appearance of the complex. The ground floor houses the building mechanicals. Several laboratories on the second floor are now vacant as a result of technological changes in movie-making. If these spaces are reoccupied, the original layout should be maintained.
Building C is devoted to film production. The main space in this building is the large sound stage, which from the outside looks like a large, windowless, brick-clad cube. The only break in this blind elevation is provided by one sliding door. The technical design and construction of the sound stage, which was built over 40 years ago, is still impressive today. No effort should be spared to preserve this space as a testimonial to the technical accomplishments of the period.
Although erected in 1965, Building D integrates quite well with the complex as a whole. Its windows are located individually rather than in ribbon arrangements, but its exterior facing is also brick. Maintaining this uniform style is essential to the cohesive character of the complex.
The appearance of Building E sets it apart from the whole. When it was converted into a refrigerated storage vault in 1997, its brick exterior walls were re-insulated and parged to meet the requirements for conserving original films and sound recordings. Efforts should be made to minimize the adverse visual impact of the building on the complex.
Little has changed in the front part of the NFB property abutting on the Metropolitan expressway. The lanes, walkways, parking areas and entrances, all laid out in a classic symmetrical pattern, have remained virtually as original, except for the access ramp and light standards added later. This layout should remain as is. The view of the complex from Côte-de-Liesse Road, the Metropolitan expressway and Houde Street should never be obstructed.