24 Sussex Drive – Renovate or Demolish? Let OSPE know and we will advise the Prime Minister

24 Sussex Drive
24 Sussex Drive. Photo from the National Capital Commission, Government of Ontario.

Evidence abounds that the official Prime Minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa is in dire need of repair, renovation and retrofitting. Laden with asbestos and antiquated electrical wiring, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau has chosen not to move his family into the home that was built in 1868.

No matter what happens to the structure, OSPE strongly supports and recommends that any new renovations or dwelling that is built uses as much Canadian clean technology as appropriate to showcase home-grown innovation and environmental stewardship. As an example, the Canadian GeoExchange Commission has issued a statement that 24 Sussex Drive be retrofitted with a Canadian made geothermal heating pump system.

Recent media reports by the Globe and Mail, CBC and Macleans have suggested that a better solution is to design and build a brand new residence showcasing Canadian green technology and fully incorporate Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) – the internationally accepted benchmark and mark of excellence for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings.

But now YOU have a chance to weigh in!

From an engineering perspective, tell us what you think in the poll below and provide us your reasons and/or recommendations in the comments section of this post.

With your responses, OSPE will prepare a letter to the Prime Minister conveying expert opinions from the engineering community.

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This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. Peter Rapin, P Eng

    I think a society is defined by its history even more so then its current technology. Yes, we need to take every effort to showcase our knowledge and ability and apply up-to-date techniques as well as do our part, even in a small way, to protect the environment but not at the cost of our identity (I believe we can do all three). Generally these old structures have staying power both structurally and architecturally. I am not convinced that the “new architecture” will have the same appeal 100 years hence. We are trending to be a throw-away society and we need to push back a bit. Being a senior citizen I sometime feel like a relic but I am not prepared to walk into the sunset to make room for youth. However, I am prepared to co-exist.

    1. Irene Shumada

      While I am a supporter of LEED technology, I am rather disheartened by the boxy unappealing buildings that are going up all over the place. I agree that we should keep some of our iconic and historic buildings, which have character that is rarely seen in newer construction. I expect that a lot can be done to retrofit the existing building to a very good level with clean technology.
      This is an excellent opportunity to show how modern Canadian technology can update an older building. It can become a showcase in that regard.

  2. Larry Betuzzi, P.Eng. FEC

    The building should be demolished and a new facility should be constructed with modern “state of the art” technology that would meet or exceed today’s building codes. I would suspect some materials in the existing build are either hazardous or toxic and would need to be disposed of in a safe manner. Most of the other materials could be re-cycled. Renovations could even cost more and take longer to complete than a new building. My late Dad once told me “you can keep repairing an older vehicle to keep it on the road but at the end of the day, you still have an old car”. It is time to replace the Prime Minister’s Residence now that it is vacant and the opportunity is there to “do it right”.

  3. Ralph Bouwmeester, P. Eng.

    Historical buildings are bulldozed much too often, and replaced with modern structures, usually for the go-to reasons of cost and/or environment. 24 Sussex is not just any historical building! It deserves, and the country deserves, to see it restored. Let’s show the world how old can be made new again. Please renovate and restore this historic landmark.

  4. Tony Palma, P. Eng., PMP, IPMA-D

    Sometimes it is difficult to strike the balance between retaining old structures at whatever cost due to their historical significance, and replacing with new. In the case of the 24 Sussex Dr., I am of the opinion that a new residence be built. From purely a cost effectiveness/maintenance point of view building a new structure is the way to go. Energy efficiency, built in technology, advanced security features, natural and state-of-the-art building materials can all be incorporated into the new residence. Canadian designers and suppliers can be tapped to truly showcase what this country – including its Engineers – have to offer. The design can incorporate elements of both historical and modern architecture.

    Symbolically, the home can represent a new fresh vision for the country, represent the diversity of this country, and unofficially kick-off the committment by the PM to renew infrastructure in Canada.

  5. Leo Ditschun, P.Eng

    I understand that the building has been designated a heritage site. I also understand that, in addition to electrical, plumbing, HVAC and insulation being woefully outdated, the foundation is crumbling reportedly due to being constructed of rubble. Clearly major work is required to bring this building up to snuff. Consequently my vote would be that the outside architectural features of the building be preserved but the infrastructure gutted and replaced with modern Canadian technology where possible to the extent that the architectural aesthetics of the building be preserved.

  6. Mike Burrell, P Eng

    For a home that has survived for 147 years, with some significant character, a prized location and some historical significance, it is important to preserve and protect it. If the renovation requires gutting and a significant addition, please preserve as much as we can.

    From an environmental perspective, re-use should still be the number one environmental goal. Nothing we build in its place is likely to last as long as the original.

    Replacing it, you might as well build some mid-rise condos and make some money while we are at it. Fill every square metre of the property with something that will generate sales or rental income. Just rent a condo for the PM like all the other MP’s.

  7. Louis Richard, P.Eng

    The residence should be renovated. In addition to Leo Ditschun’s comments, using extensive energy efficient methods and materials could showcase what can be done with older homes. This would provide an example to the many Canadian owners of homes built 30 or more years ago.

  8. Nicole de Lint, P.Eng.

    Any decision should be supported by a minimum 50 year life cycle analysis. If refit and renovation cannot be justified on this basis then it is time to demolish and redesign to live up to today’s expectations regarding sustainability. Certainly, a redesign could include reclamation and reuse of elements that would reflect the history of the original building.

  9. Nastaran Khosravi (new to PEO Family )

    We always have a chance to demolish a building but we cannot rebuild our history that a heritage building can demonstrate. Demolish is the last choice not the first one. We can show off our ability and professionalism by retrofitting this building and adding some new part . We can exchange the hazardous materials ( like asbestos ) and replacing them by more durable , efficient and attractive. Also, it is not difficult to implement a new technology instead of the old one in an existing building. In case of keeping a building that might cost more money for us in compare of demolishing and building a new one, we are trying to say that we respect the history that this building represents and hoping that future professionals are treating the same as us.

  10. Eric Erhard PEng

    We should demolish that old delapidate building. Build a new ultra modern structure that show cases today’s architecture and energy efficient engineering. Relics are for museums, let’s move 24 Sussex into a museum, and construct a modern icon that will be a show case for visiting dignitaries, a home for PM and family and a model of energy and design efficiency.

  11. Mark Decyk P.Eng

    You ask for comments “from an engineering perspective”. I am at a bit of a loss. Excepting a handful of people who are familiar with the structure and its current condition, can anyone actually offer engineering insight into the renovate/rebuild decision?
    Not all problems are engineering problems. This particular one is primarily a political problem, inasmuch as the decision rests on the allocation of resources between this and other priorities. Some consideration should be taken of history and tradition, and a vigorous discussion should be had about the need and role of an official residence of the Prime Minister. Engineering input might be relevant in comparing the costs of renovation and rebuilding, but otherwise we are on an equal footing with every other citizen.
    Once a decision is made, one assumes that the actual renovation or construction of the building will be comparatively routine. There are lots of people who are qualified to either restore historical buildings or to design and build an appropriate new building.

    1. Bill Goodings

      For those who want to save money and destroy 24 Sussex Drive and rebuild, I say they know the price of everything and do not know the value of anything. We are a pretty poor country If we cannot support one costly and appropriate ( even frivolous) retrofit to sustain this icon of our history. In the same vein we should not support buying expensive military equipment nor fly our former PM Harper home in our ‘standing by’ VIP jet plane. If we fix and properly retrofit 24 Sussex Drive, Canadians will can show the world that Canada is great country and cares for its icons.

    2. Erik Stephens P.Eng.

      Fully agree Mark. I didn’t vote because the information is not available to formulate an “engineering opinion”. This is a gut feeling poll based off limited information. And as you state there are other political and historical implications that reach outside the engineering realm that need to be factored in.

  12. Leslie Chin, P.Eng.

    A new green building should be built for the Prime Minister’s residence with south facing orientation, solar PV panels on the roof, battery storage, DC distribution, high efficiency DC lighting, modern insulation, modern HVAC, latest security, etc.

  13. richard C

    The architecture can be duplicated if desired, or modified to reflect modern design thought. It is outrageous and disrespectful to think that our present architects / designers are somehow inferior to those of 100 years ago. Society cannot be frozen in the bad old days of 100 years ago.
    I completely agree that a brand new super efficient environmentally innovative house be built – with not too much automation (that would require engineers for house maintenance!!). With the money saved from building new vs renovating, they can install all of the latest technological features.
    LED lights, solar panels, motion sensor / timed lights inside and out, polycarbonate bullet proof windows, steel -reinforced outer walls, bomb shelter room, epoxy, automotive-finished wrought iron stair rails, aluzinc insulated metal roof sheets etc!! And hire some Brazilian masonry experts to give those wonderful intricate concrete curvy designs on the walls and roof soffits. Come on Canada, show some creativity and passion!

  14. Maryn Marsland

    Yes, this is a heritage status building that holds a significant historical role in Canada. And it also presents an opportunity to demonstrate Canada’s commitment to environmental standards and demonstrate to the world our skills in architecture and green design. However, first and foremost the prime minister’s residence is just that: a private residence. The space is occupied continually, as Canada continually has a prime minister, as demonstrated in how it has currently reached this point of such necessity for repairs. As a residence it doesn’t provide opportunity to serve well as either an icon of our history or a demonstration of our green innovation, as it is not widely on display. The building could better serve – with an overall retrofit maintaining its historical qualities while also allowing an exploration of our highest environmental standards – as a public sight, a space open to visitors to see bother the heritage and technology. In that case it would then truly be able to shine as an icon of Canada to the world.
    A space could be reserved as a private residence for the PM, or the residence of the PM could be moved permanently to its current location at Rideau Cottage, or the whole institution of an official residence for our prime minister could be reconsidered. Whatever conclusion is come to on that issue, the building of 24 Sussex Drive could serve better by being renovated, retrofitted, and opened to the public as a place to display both Canadian heritage and Canada’s skill in cutting-edge, environmentally friendly development.

  15. Jim Giovannitti P.Eng

    I believe the historical building should be left alone. The cost saving from not demolishing the building can be used in building another new modern more efficient building using Canadian technology and Canadian architects and engineers. Funds can be generated to fund the cost of the new building by making the historical building a museum and people will pay a small fee to have a tour of the old building and new building. show casing Canadian conservation measure with a net zero house.

  16. Peter Rapin, P Eng

    As a side note, the parliament buildings, also in Ottawa and with historical significance, are currently undergoing a multi-year, multi-billion dollar repair/ retrofit. Same arguments have been made in that case – new is cheaper, better environmentally, and more sustainable from an operational perspective. However, the business case was made to undertake total restoration. I suppose it could be argued that these buildings are more “significant” than the PM residence but that is subjective. There are hundreds of studies and documents related to the decision to “save” the parliament buildings, all available to the public. Might be worth some research for those interested in the process. Note to some of the commenters, 24 Sussex serves much more than the PM residence with national and international functions. A condo on Laurier would not be the same.

  17. Jim Randerson

    This is some real hard-hitting advocacy!!!!!

  18. R. Takeishi

    Having visited 24 Sussex on more than one occasion, I can absolutely attest to the fact that it is in serious disrepair, however, it is a heritage building, something the new generation are quick to discard.
    Anyone visiting most major European cities are enthralled by the elegant old buildings, and we also must keep our heritage.
    As someone who restored, not renovated an old house, from foundation to roof, I am well aware of all the hidden problems one encounters. Building a modern monstrosity is not a solution. We need to fix 24 Sussex for generations to come.

  19. Miriam Hancock

    Come on, people! This house is part of Canada’s heritage. If it needs work then bloody well get on to it! What is wrong with us that we have to tear everything down and replace it with these hideous modern edifices. You wouldn’t believe the raping of the cityscape that goes on in my city of Brantford, Ontario. We need to restore and renew 24 Sussex Drive for the NEXT PM not the jackass we have in power right now.

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