Saturday, January 1, 2011

McDonald's on Bronson: the plywood gem

This is a McDonald's. It's on Bronson Avenue, seen in June. It has a distinctive roofline--in this case in red and white, but also seen with brown roof tiles and yellow beams, and it has a large freestanding sign out front with golden arches that sticks out prominently in front of the store.

This is an automotive service centre (Midas, 450 Bronson). It's also on Bronson Avenue. It has a rectangular shape with flush aluminium siding, large raised lettering of the name of the centre and uses a red band to provide contrast to the grey of the rest of the building.

This? I'm not quite sure which category it falls into. It's the same building as the first photo, but looks more like the second. Taken yesterday. Do french fries count as an oil change?

The Ottawa Citizen is not unsure, and instead calls this one of the five best buildings/urban spaces in Ottawa in 2010.

I guess if you can't cook a meal, you do fast food, and if you can't find decent ideas for a year-end article on architecture, you... do fast food. They also cited the scaffolding on Parliament Hill, when I think Montréal does that better.

Here's what the article said to justify the McDonald's nomination:
3. McDonalds (Nominated by Yves Gosselin)

The fast-food chain is undergoing a global McMakeover. Three Ottawa locations (1795 St. Laurent Boulevard, 594 Montreal Road and 670 Bronson Avenue) sport a contemporary new image.

The signature red mansard roof is replaced by a flat roof. Instead of masonry, the exterior is designed with strong graphic use of colour and metal panels in red, white and grey. There is more generous light and space, more windows and bigger entrances. The interior features clean modern lines, leather-like benches, easy chairs and stools. Some locations have fireplaces and flat-screen TV.
I didn't deign to go inside, but if architecture is only about how the building looks from the inside, you're doing it wrong.

Now, the renovations aren't complete, but since the nomination has already been made, I consider it fair game to critique the building as is. One of the main elements is this red "panel", on which is stuck the golden arches.

It's a good feature in theory, but if you actually go up to it, you'll notice it is made of plywood. Plywood is what it takes to make it to the top-five list in Ottawa? (Perhaps that's not an unfair critique of Ottawa's architecture...)

Unfortunately, the changes shift all the architectural focus to the front of the building, where before the roof wrapped around the buliding. The new red panel competes for attention with the freestanding sign and other red and yellow signs, which all get in each other's way. The result is not a distinctive feature, but a jumbled clutter. The garish neon temporary billboard does not help.

The lack of architectural elements at the sides of the building would be justified if there were room for new buildings to flank it on either side (as with the Midas place, above). This will be partially accopmlished when and if the vacant lot at Plymouth and Bronson (in the foreground of the photo above) is ever developed. However, the McDonald's restaurant still finds itself marooned by its own parking lot, which surrounds it on three sides.

There was one element that I thought was nice, and it was this landscaping at the front of the building. It's the only thing that anchors the building to the surrounding neighbourhood, the only reminder that this neighbourhood--other than Bronson--is a very walkable one.

But the landscaping was already there. (Photo from November 2009)

McDonald's has changed their look before, from the original Golden-Arches design to the style I grew up with, and again when the brown and yellow was painted red-and-white. But each time the new version had distinct elements on the exterior to make the restaurant memorable. This new design (as it looks currently, at least) is no longer distinct. It blends in. There's no nostalgic value; nothing in the design that stands out to remember it by--even the golden arches are reduced to playing a secondary role in the look. It's beyond humble, it's ashamed.

If I had to say anything nice about it, I think the new font is nice.

While I was at the site, I took some more photos of the former Ainee's Convenience store across the street, which burned down in December 2008.

A new building has been built, and will be reopening on January 3rd as Cinnamon Xpress Cafe and Deli. It features fair-trade organic coffee and a wireless cafe/internet station (i.e. computers are provided). They'll be open 6am-10pm daily. I have photos of the construction, and we'll see when I get around to posting them. Here's the sign in the front door:

[Edit: eventually the plywood was replaced with prefabricated red panels. I still prefer the old look.]


  1. Nice blog! I live in the neighbourhood and actually called the MacDonalds HQ in Toronto to find out if they had plans to remove the old golden arches (free standing one). They told me to call the store and speak to the manager. I did so and spoke with a very young sounding manager who knew nothing and was keen to get me off the phone as soon as possible. How dare I be asking about construction plans!?!?

  2. The new cafe across the street is a great addition to the neighbourhood. I've been in a couple of times for coffee and crepes which were outstanding. This is a new business that neighbours should be supporting.