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Rideau Centre Red Garage

The new Rideau Centre Red Garage serves several purposes besides accommodating road-weary motorists. In and of itself, the four-level, 160,000-square-foot structure is a stylistic relief compared to the stack car park that stood in its place for 40 years.

On a broader scale, the Red Garage, which has space for 434 vehicles, will help encourage new development in and around Rideau Centre, Ottawa’s retail heart. As for owners Viking Rideau Corporation, not only has the project been completed in time for the Christmas season, the precast garage can be expanded by two more levels (670 stalls total) as more nearby retail and commercial outlets are created. “All we’ll need to do is build additional levels on the roof of our structure without having to close the facility – that’s the beauty of precast,” says Citipark Inc. general manager Tom Dunn, who acted as project manager on behalf of Viking Rideau Corporation.

That the Red Garage was finished on time is remarkable. “After resolving the appearance of the garage with both the City of Ottawa and National Capital Commission, the schedule was our single greatest challenge and was limited to a window between January and October of 2008,” says Philip Sarvinis, managing principal of Read Jones Christoffersen Ltd., which was chosen by Viking as the project’s prime consultant and structural consultant. “That time frame included demolition of the existing six-storey structure, which alone took two and a half months and cost one million dollars.” Sarvinis adds that the City of Ottawa and the NCC worked closely with the design team to ensure that the new Red Garage would not so much resemble a garage as it would a modern facility that integrates with Rideau Centre’s evolution as a retail hub.

Given the fact that the new facility was to have the same footprint as the original garage, the intent of the project was always to reuse as much of the existing original foundations as possible while changing the parking layout to improve the overall functionality of the garage. “In order to conform with the requirements of the 2006 Ontario Building Code, some of the original foundations had to be upgraded and new ones had to be constructed to provide the facility with the appropriate lateral stability,” says Sarvinis.

From street level, the open-air Red Garage’s horizontal lines are broken by soaring precast panels of different textures and colours (some up to three storeys high). Exterior stairwells are glazed not only for protection against the elements, but to achieve Viking Rideau’s goal that end users should be able to move safely throughout the facility, even at night. Glass canopies and space for future retail outlets line the perimeter of the garage, and access/egress points that are different from the original garage were selected for maximum transportation efficiency.

Inside, the use of long span structural elements has reduced the number of obstructions on each floor, thus enabling customers to better understand the layout as well as increasing their safety. Traffic flows that tend to be confusing in other garages were rendered simple thanks to Dunn’s collaboration with Read Jones Christoffersen. “Incoming traffic goes up one end of the building and descends on the other,” says Dunn. “We wanted to eliminate traffic crossovers, and this was the easiest way to do it.” Red Garage is largely automated, save for ‘ambassadors’ who roam through the building to aid customers if required.

With regards to the project’s tight time frame, it was decided during the initial planning stages that the ideal method of construction would be a combination of construction materials. Precast concrete was chosen for the superstructure and cast-in-place concrete was chosen for the foundations and below-grade structure. This approach allowed both to start simultaneously. While the foundations and below-grade structure were being completed on site, the precast elements were being fabricated at the Béton Préfabriqués du Lac precast plant with the vision of having the foundations completed at the same time as the fabrication. Read Jones Christoffersen subcontracted the architectural appearance aspect of Red Garage to IBI Group’s Ottawa office, where Ernie Patton and colleagues ensured the design would stay in keeping with the neighbourhood, City of Ottawa and NCC standards and Viking Rideau’s mandate of keeping end users safe. “A lot of the design served dual purposes,” he says. “For example, the exterior glazed stairwells not only provide a measure of safety, they are interesting visually.”

After undergoing a tendering process towards the end of 2007, EllisDon was awarded a $14-million lump sum construction contract. Project manager Jason Sheldrick says, “Because there would be 600 fewer parking spaces during the demolition and reconstruction period, and because Viking Rideau was adamant that the new facility be available for the 2008 Christmas shopping season, scheduling was of the utmost importance.” Demolition of the old structure by Ontario Specialty Contracting Ltd. was completed on March 15, and on March 17 Ellis Don began work on the site by exposing the existing caissons and foundation walls. The work crew soon realized that not all of the existing foundations matched the as-built drawings for the original garage, and this required Read Jones Christoffersen to redesign the foundations in many locations as EllisDon constructed them. Sheldrick is quick to point out that “The historic records detailing what lay beneath the surface proved to be inaccurate, and none of us could have foreseen this.” A crew of up to 70 people worked six-day weeks, often logging more than 12 hours per day to meet Viking Rideau’s schedule.

Other challenges unfolded as Rideau Centre Red Garage took shape. “We had very little staging room,” says Sheldrick. “We wound up having to rent portions of an adjacent street for rebar delivery and precast staging.” In late September 2208, Sheldrick’s crew had just completed precast erection and was installing portions of curtain wall. “We’re supposed to be out of here by the end of October, so we’re racing against the clock,” he says.

Still, Sheldrick maintains that the project “was very exciting, and ultimately fulfilling. We all rose to the occasion.” And from Dunn’s perspective, Rideau Centre has a garage that can truly be called inspiring. “We’re extremely happy with the final result,” he says. “It took a lot of consultation with the City of Ottawa, the NCC and close work with our engineering, design and construction teams, but we now have a garage that stimulates pedestrian interest and is well-thought-out for users.”

Rideau Centre Red Garage Highlights
Location: Rideau Centre, 50 Rideau Street, Ottawa, Ontario
Owner/Developer: Viking Rideau Corporation
Prime Consultant/Parking Planning/Structural Consultant: Read Jones Christoffersen Ltd.
Architect: IBI Group
General Contractor: EllisDon Corporation
Mechanical/Electrical Consultant: MCW Consultants Ltd.
Precast Concrete: Béton Préfabriqués du Lac Inc.
Total Area: 160,000 square feet (expandable to 240,000 square feet)
Construction Cost: $15 million

*Courtesy AWARD Magazine – article appeared in the December 2008 edition

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