Embassy of the United States in Ottawa

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Embassy of the United States in Ottawa

The United States Embassy in Ottawa is a building located in Ottawa which opened in 1999.

Original mission

Before this date the mission occupied a 1930s era building directly across from Parliament Hill at 100 Wellington Street. The Beaux-Arts structure was designed by Cass Gilbert for the American legation in 1932 (full ambassador status was with the United States Embassy in Britain at the time), then as a full embassy after 1943. The older building, a three storey Indiana limestone built in 1930-1931, proved to be too small, however, and embassy employees were spread between eight other Ottawa buildings. Security concerns associated with this distribution necessitated centralization. The road to a new embassy was a long and difficult one, with attempts made at getting a new structure beginning in the 1960s. Finding an appropriate site and receiving acceptance from both governments proved to be difficult; one proposal to build the embassy in Rockcliffe Park, near the Canada Aviation Museum, was opposed by locals who worried about security threats and congestion.

New embassy

The new embassy is located on what used to be a small hill and parking lot on the western edge of the Byward Market. Early in Ottawa's history it had been the site of a number of small homes and businesses, but the land was expropriated by the federal government during the First World War and a temporary office building was built on the site for government workers. The building was torn down after the war, but another temporary structure was built on the site during World War II. This structure survived until 1972, when it was razed and left as a parking lot.

To the west of the embassy is Major's Hill Park while the National Gallery of Canada is just to the northwest of the embassy. The building's design, by noted architect David Childs of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, was somewhat controversial in Ottawa. Local architects and citizens complained that the structure overshadowed the historic market and suggested that it looked like a battleship, or worried about the danger posed to local businesses by potential terrorist attacks against the embassy. These complaints were aggravated after the September 11 attacks, when a number of roads around the embassy were blocked, congesting traffic and hurting businesses. To this day traffic flow on Sussex Drive has been hampered by the closing of one of the lanes in order to place extra barriers. The building was voted biggest eyesore in Ottawa by readers of the Ottawa XPress at the end of 2005.

Security concerns voiced by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security before the completion of construction were overruled by its parent agency, the U.S. Department of State. In the aftermath of the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa there was serious consideration given at the time if the new U.S. Embassy should be completed, especially considering the large amount of glass on one side of the new Chancery that faced a public street. The cost of not finishing and moving into the new Chancery, in terms of money and political capital, could not be overcome. The embassy was dedicated by President Bill Clinton on October 8, 1999, the first time in American history a president had personally dedicated a new embassy.

Building Activity

  • removed a media
    about 5 years ago via OpenBuildings.com