Description of Historic Place
The Former U.S. Embassy, also known as the United States Chancery, is designed in a Beaux-arts classical style and finished in limestone. The building has a cube-like massing, a flat roof and symmetrical composition centred on the main entrance. Its principal façades employ classical architectural proportions and orders and the classical details are finely carved. The building faces Parliament Buildings National Historic Site of Canada. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.
The Former U.S. Embassy is a Classified Federal Heritage Building because of its historical associations and its architectural and environmental values.
This embassy was the first permanent home of the U.S. Legation in Canada, the first foreign mission at Ottawa, and thus a benchmark in Canada’s gradual assumption of sovereignty over foreign affairs. It was also one of the first of a series of purpose-built embassy buildings constructed by the U.S. government around the world, signifying the rise and establishment of the United States as a leading world power. Executed in the Beaux-Arts style, it is one of the most refined examples of its type in Canada and an important late work of American architect Cass Gilbert.
The Former U.S. Embassy is a very good example of United States government architecture of the early 1930s. It features a simple rectilinear form, classically designed elevations of pale Indiana limestone wrapping around the principal symmetrical entrance and side elevations, a flat roof, and a setback penthouse. Externally and internally the design employs a simple palette of high quality materials expressing the importance and prestige appropriate to a United States chancery embassy. The building is valued for its excellent aesthetic qualities and its excellent functional design.
Occupying a prominent site opposite the Queen’s Gate to Parliament Hill, the Former U.S. Embassy respects and harmoniously reinforces the highly visible Wellington Street edge of the Hill and is a distinguished landmark feature of the Parliamentary precinct.
Sources: Sally Coutts, Former United States Embassy, Ottawa, Ontario, Federal Heritage Building Review Office Building Report 84-027; Sally Coutts, Former United States Embassy, Ottawa, Ontario, Heritage Character Statement, 84-027.
The following character-defining elements of the Former U.S. Embassy should be respected.
Its excellent aesthetic qualities and its excellent functional design, for example:
- the principal front and side façades of the embassy, including those of the penthouse and the front boundary wall with its gate posts to the sides, designed in the Beaux-Arts classical style and finished in limestone;
- its cube-like massing, reflected in the rectilinear footprint, flat roof, and symmetrical composition centred on the main entrance of the principal elevation;
- the set-back service core penthouse, at roof level, which is partially obscured by a stone parapet balustrade running around the Indiana limestone front and side elevations;
- the façades, which are modelled on Italian palazzos and employ classical architectural proportions, orders and finely carved details, and which demonstrate very careful attention to design and high standards of workmanship;
- the original multi-paned, double-hung sash windows and wood entrance doors of the principle facades;
- internally, the Beaux-Arts style circulation spaces, including ceremonial hallways and stairs which lead to the principal offices, together with corridors accessing offices of secondary importance, and more functionally treated corridors and stairs leading to the support offices and spaces;
- the decorative treatment relating to the original hierarchical ordering of these spaces and stairs and the rooms to which they lead;
- the elevator, including doors, surrounds, and controls at all floor levels, and the elevator cabin with its wood finishes, trim, controls and light fixture;
- the washrooms, which generally retain their original layouts, doors, fixtures, tiled floor and wall finishes.
The manner in which the Former U.S. Embassy reinforces the ceremonial character of its location on Wellington Street, as manifested in:
- the building’s harmonious fit within a row of similarly scaled and finished buildings, all of which face onto Parliament Buildings National Historic Site of Canada;
- the embassy’s principal façades, front masonry wall with iron railings, entrance and side door steps, and gate posts with decorative iron arches and light fixtures, which contribute positively to the surrounding ceremonial context.