Diamond Schmitt Architects warms up the joint
Back on Våffeldagen (Swedish Waffle Day) we showed a rendering of the new waffle ceiling being built at the National Arts Centre (NAC) in Ottawa. It’s now complete; I should probably be waiting until the American National Waffle Day on August 25 to publish this, but there might be a tariff on waffles by then so we will do it now.
Most of the waffle slabs that we have shown have been concrete, and were on TreeHugger because they were a way of doing long spans with less concrete. They were also beautiful, so they weren’t covered up with drywall but left for all to see. They are so attractive that sometimes they are decorative, as in Marcel Breuer’s MET Modern Gallery in New York, or in the original NAC.
Diamond Schmitt Architects (DSA), in their renovation of the NAC, have carried the theme of the waffle ceiling through into their addition, installing decorative waffles made of wood, chosen, according to Timothy Schuler writing in Architect, “to celebrate Canada’s vast forests and to showcase a domestic product—glulam made from Douglas fir trees grown in British Columbia.”
Designed in Autodesk Revit by DSA, the coffers are arranged on a 10-foot equilateral triangle grid, forming hexagons that total 20 feet across. Each triangular coffer comprises three 9.5-foot-long, 3.1-inch-thick glulam members, with slightly rounded edges at their vertices to blur any misalignment. Members taper in depth from 4.25 feet to 3 feet, from the hexagons’ centers to their perimeters to create a sense of undulation. “The coffers themselves are not connected to one to another except by small pieces of blocking, approximately 10 inches square, maintaining the 150-millimeter [visual] gap between the coffers,” says Will Loasby, senior project manager at structural engineering firm Fast + Epp, in Vancouver.
In short, we have a whole lot of big Glulam wood triangular boxes hanging upside down from the ceiling. Does this make sense?
The NAC was a wonderful period piece of classic brutalist architecture, but according to critic Alex Bozikovic, was described by its CEO as “ a dark, forbidding, inaccessible place.” So before, where it was windowless, now it is glass. Where it was concrete, now it is wood, because as DSA partner Donald Schmitt notes, Wood is also a warm, “natural material used in a natural state.”
And it is true, the renovated building is bright, inviting, full of light and warm with wood. The waffles may not serve any useful function but they do tie the new and old together. And we love wood, and we love waffles, whatever they are made of.