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Architect behind massive Rideau Centre remodelling says it was all about creating breathing room

The massive $360-million expansion of the CF Rideau Centre in downtown Ottawa officially opens to the public Thursday after 36 months of construction.

The opening of the transformed iconic shopping mall from its once aged and dusty appearance reveals the vision of B+H Architects, who designed the new shopping centre and surrounds for Rideau Street.

B+H has previously worked on the CIBC Pan Am/Parapan Am Aquatics Centre and Field House in Markham, Ont., northeast of Toronto, and Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field in Regina, home of the Canadian Football League Roughriders.

According to B+H senior associate Stéphane Raymond, the Rideau Centre revitalization was all about opening the dark and dreary walkways and shops within the mall to the Ottawa skyline and allowing more natural light to flood in.

“The Centre was first opened in 1983, and I think that was the late end of a certain style,” said Raymond, referring to the mall’s dark, artificially lit hallways. He said opening the exterior of the mall, which runs parallel to Rideau Street, was difficult because retailers had to buy into the concept of bringing in natural light.

“It’s challenging, because a lot of retailers prefer wall space to windows,” he said. “We’ve renovated all of their existing facades, which you probably remember as being mostly pre-cast with not many windows out to the street. That’s all been replaced with a lot of glass. It’s very open.”

Raymond said the retailers have now embraced the idea, with many using the large windows to entice consumers to come inside. Some, such as Montreal clothier Simons, which is opening in the expansion, have even set up sitting areas and cafés which allow customers to sit and admire the view.

The redesign, according to Raymond, is also aimed at tying in the new Rideau Centre with work soon to be completed on Rideau Street, which was closed last year to most passenger vehicle traffic and some buses as crews began revitalizing the street, creating a public park at Ogilvy Square and finishing the Rideau Street transit station, which will deliver passengers on the LRT’s new underground Confederation Line when it opens in 2018.

The Bay, meanwhile, is undergoing its own renovation.

The area is bordered by the ByWard Market and the University of Ottawa. Raymond said the plan was to create a property that allows for flow through the area and encourages patrons to walk, rest or shop at their leisure.

Wednesday’s opening offers a glimpse at the future of Rideau Street, which has seen billions of dollars in investment over the past decade and is fuelling hopes of a retail revival in the heart of the city.

Reconstruction of the Rideau Centre involved the removal of several familiar tenants, the relocation of the food court, and the addition of a few new retailers, with many opening their first shops in the nation’s capital.

The aged cinema that once spanned the Rideau Centre’s fourth floor has been pulled down to accommodate the Simons store. The popular Marché restaurant vanished from its long-held space beneath the escalators on the mall’s first floor. Cinnabon is but a sweet memory, and the Sports Experts store near Rideau Street is closing its doors.

The souped-up food court was moved about a year ago to a larger space filled with higher-end food offerings. In its old spot is a sleek, relocated Shoppers Drug Mart. Nordstrom now occupies the space once held by Sears, and clothing retailer H&M is opening its second Ottawa location at the mall.

There will also be four new restaurants and 386 more parking spots.

When the Rideau Centre broke ground in 2013 on the $360-million expansion and renovation, the plan included 230,000 square feet of new space in the four-storey shopping area on the site of the dilapidated Ogilvy Building, which had stood empty for 20 years prior its demolition.

source: Ottawa Citizen, 9 August 2016, Vito Pilieci