Skip to main content

Views of the Past, Design for the Future: Victoria Lookout Redevelopment

After its temporary closure in 2014 during the West Block Rehabilitation, the Victoria Lookout was to be reinstated with updates to meet current accessibility standards, making the site inclusive for Parliamentarians, Canadians, and all global visitors to Parliament Hill. As a historic site, it was critical that the design maintained the site’s heritage character. This required the work to be as discreet as possible, using a philosophy of minimal intervention and selecting historically-appropriate materials.

Victoria Lookout, Parliament Hill

Centre Block on Parliament Hill serves as the epicentre of Canadian democracy. It is presently undergoing an unprecedented, once-in-a-century rehabilitation to modernize its physical setting and its infrastructure while respecting its heritage values.

The Victoria Lookout is located west of the Centre Block, immediately north of the [Queen] Victoria Mound. It is an important character-defining element of the Parliament Hill landscape, recognized as a National Historic Site of Canada. This vantage point has long provided picturesque views of the Ottawa River skyline — including Victoria Island and the Canadian Museum of History — and the Gatineau Hills beyond to those working on the Hill as well as to Canadian and international visitors.

Victoria Outlook River
Victoria Lookout, facing west towards the Ottawa River

The re-development of the Victoria Lookout was but one of over 30 enabling projects delivered in advance of the Centre Block’s rehabilitation. In 2014, it was closed to the public as part of the rehabilitation of the West Block: it provided construction laydown space for the new Visitor Welcome Centre, a function it would also provide for the enabling projects.

In such a place of national significance, it was critical that any design for the Victoria Lookout understood, respected, and enhanced the site’s established heritage character. The discreet intervention would employ the principle of minimal intervention in achieving its intended goals, including meeting current accessibility standards, and using historically appropriate ‘noble’ materials.

Victoria Outlook Photo Strip 3
Victoria Lookout, facing east towards the Centre Block and the Peace Tower

The design development for the Lookout resolved longstanding grading issues and rendered the pathway accessible and inclusive for all. A set of retaining walls were introduced to mitigate the challenging site constraints, such as the height of the parapet walls, the stairway access to the existing fan room below, the existing grade of the escarpment pathway, and planting beds to the south. Today, the primary pathway remains accessible and inclusive to everyone; a separate pathway provides access to the fan room staircase north of the retaining wall. A series of planting beds soften the hard edges of the Lookout and deftly blend and transition the native plant palette of the Escarpment into the ordered planting of the Victoria Mound. Furthermore, the design improves the visitor experience by preventing crowding at the lower platform while maintaining and accentuating the key views.

Victoria Outlook Aerial View with Labels

The scope of work included: amelioration of grading, improved landscape treatments privileging planting and paving, trench drains, and retaining walls. The design was developed with the following considerations:

Employ Consistent and Noble Materials: Paving, walls, and plantings better complement the Perimeter Plateau and seamlessly blend into the overall composition of Parliament Hill.

Meet Life Safety Requirements: The design as executed is naturally accessible to and inclusive for all users.

Improve the Visitor Experience: The spatial organization of the Victoria Lookout recognizes and acknowledges that it is a key vantage point of the visitor experience on Parliament Hill. This is important both in the long term but especially during the restrictions of the current Centre Block rehabilitation.

Respect the Principle of Minimal Intervention: Following principles for heritage conservation, the work discreetly but deftly reinstates and upgrades the function of the Lookout, and enhances its iconic views.

The intent of this design was, in part, to respect the history and significance of the Victoria Lookout as a critical viewpoint to the Ottawa River from the context of Parliament Hill, while reinstating its essential layout and reinforce its position within the Perimeter Plateau. It also serves as an essential component in the visitor experience of Parliament Hill during the protracted period during which Centre Block is being rehabilitated.

Stakeholders were consulted throughout the conceptual and design development phases with a particular focus on respecting/enhancing heritage values and providing Universal Accessibility.

By all accounts, the design as executed for the Victoria Lookout has been appropriate, successful, and appreciated!

Victoria Outlook Family
A family visiting Victoria Lookout, a child climbs on the retaining wall while the parent calls them for photos.

Return to Blog