Monday, March 14, 2011

Museum of Nature Re-Opening Day, part 2

In part one of this three-part set of photos from last year's reopening of the Canadian Museum of Nature, I mentioned that the series is timed to coincide with Heritage Ottawa's monthly lecture this Wednesday, March 16 at 7pm at the museum. The talk will feature Maria Somjen, project director for the museum's six-year long renovation project. Like the other monthly talks by Heritage Ottawa, admission is free of charge.

In the previous post, I showed some photos from the re-opening day of the museum's exterior, the opening ceremonies, and the main hall. I left you with a view looking up at the tracery screen that separates the original part of the museum with the new glass tower at the front of the museum, nicknamed "the Lantern". Here's a shot through the screen looking at the new set of stairs in the lantern.

You can see that the tracery screen, the stairs and the lantern are all lined up in this photo, and Metcalfe Street skews a bit to the left. When Ottawa Citizen contributor Julie Oliver took a similar photo (see photo #20), I think she was aiming to centre Metcalfe street.

Nevertheless, it's a very bright feature, especially on a sunny day. It's also functional. The museum was originally intended for only the first two floors to be open to the public as museum space (see historical photos in this Ottawa Citizen gallery of historical photos). When the upper two floors were opened for exhibits, visitors had to use the stairways at the corner towers to access the top two floors.

The new marble stairs in the Lantern are far more accessible.

As I said earlier, I visited the museum thrice on opening day with various sets of friends, including once late at night, in order to catch the much-hyped Isabella Rossellini's "Green Porno" film in the new HD theatre in the basement. In this night shot, you can see the lantern from the inside at night.

The third floor has a terrace with information about the museum's renewal, as well as a donor wall. There is also a good view of many parts of Centretown. In this photo you can see the Embassy of Iraq (on this side of the tall apartment building) as well as the new 'temporary' parking lot ('temporary' until they get funding to build an underground lot):

The original stone tower was too heavy for the Leda clay underneath it, causing the tower to sink. All but the first floor and a half were removed to save it from separating entirely. In the new design, the lantern's glass walls are actually curtain-glass walls suspended from a superstructure, which in turn is held up by four large pillars sunk into the ground. Here's a detail of some of what's going on there.

The old amphitheatre, which housed the House of Commons from 1916-1920, was converted into an event room that can be set up for various types of functions. I remember seeing the animated film the Nutcracker in the old theatre as a child.

One of the wings on the top floor was left empty to allow a variety of event programming. Both this room at the East end of the building, and the room connecting it to the atrium, are barebones white rooms. While it looks like the windows show a view outside, they don't. However, unlike the other exhibit spaces this room has artificial windows with a grey screen behind them.

That's another one of my beefs with the renovations. For years I'd go by looking at the renovations of this wonderful old stone castle, but when I went inside to explore it, it was all very modern and sanitized. There were some stone elements visible from inside, like these stained-glass windows depicting roses on the second floor of the base of the tower:

But you couldn't see for yourself the way the refurbished building was like a building-within a building, for example the staircases in the corners which are structurally independent of the circular walls around them. This was much hyped in the lead-up to the museum's reopening--and I longed to climb those stairs again as I had as a child--but as a guest you could only view them through the windows of the occasional door with a shatterproof glass window. There was some exposed stone in the basement, in the washrooms.

I was expecting more of this: the new entrances to the third and fourth floors from the Lantern, which obviously had to be cut into the front wall (which was previously exposed to the outside). (A curious feature is the glass floors to these gangways. They're partially frosted as solace to the nervous).

Let's follow these two kids back into the museum, and toward the third and final post in this series. In that post, going up on Wednesday (the day of the Heritage Ottawa lecture), I'll share some of my photos of the brand-new exhibits.

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