Capital Design Guidelines


3.1 Built Heritage

Built heritage is an irreplaceable resource that must be carefully managed and preserved for future generations. Heritage buildings are important artifacts that reflect the layered history and evolution of the Capital. From the grand and monumental institutions that line Confederation Boulevard, to small buildings and spaces like the Sussex Courtyards, historic residences, or farmsteads, all these elements contribute to the Capital’s heritage. Buildings and districts may have a local, provincial, or federal heritage status – or may yet require analysis to determine their heritage value. Heritage evaluations and designations ensure that buildings are properly assessed and understood so they can be effectively managed and preserved. Designers must understand a site’s heritage context irrespective of jurisdiction and seek to preserve and showcase heritage. 

While preserving the unique features and intrinsic value of heritage buildings is essential, it is equally important that these structures remain purposeful and relevant in the present day. The objective is both stewardship and conservation of existing buildings, as well as creative and appropriate adaptation and reuse. Designs should be informed by analysis and understanding of the heritage context and demonstrate how an intervention contributes to the preservation and enhancement of the heritage value.

  • 3.1.1

    Historical Features

    Study heritage designations and identify character-defining features that must be preserved, enhanced or showcased throughout the design (e.g. rooflines, facades, doors, windows).

  • 3.1.2


    Preserve character-defining elements, materials and artisan details while maintaining or repairing for maximum lifecycle. Avoid replacements that would alter the existing character.

  • 3.1.3

    Restoration and Rehabilitation

    Where an original structure has been altered or degraded, replace character-defining elements in keeping with the original period, design intent and construction techniques.

  • 3.1.4


    Where demolition or new construction is required, it may be appropriate to replicate what existed or, for new buildings, to retain and incorporate vestigial traits of the preceding structure.

  • 3.1.5

    Additions and Infill

    Design alterations and additions to heritage buildings to be complementary and appropriate in scale, form and materiality to the original. Make new elements compatible with or tastefully differentiated from the original.

  • 3.1.6


    Prioritize designs that honour and respect the historical patterns and styles of the locale and reinforce the heritage setting, either through replication, reference or reinvention within a style.

  • 3.1.7


    Intentional contrast or abstract reference may be used to distinguish new elements from old. Select materials, colours and forms that complement and contrast but do not overwhelm.

  • 3.1.8

    Adaptive Re-use

    Select and plan new uses that are well suited to the original structure. Avoid extensive and/or irreparable alterations to the building’s form, massing, materials or character.

  • 3.1.9


    Tastefully integrate upgrades and alterations to existing buildings to be low impact, invisible and reversible whenever possible.

3.2 New Buildings

Each new building contributes to the evolving character and identity of the Capital. Federal buildings are often of substantial size, and even simple structures such as office accommodations, laboratories or storage facilities can create or influence the character of their surroundings.

The objective is to develop a collection of timeless Capital buildings and structures that will endure long into the future. This requires quality construction based on sound principles of building form and function. Every new building is an opportunity to create a built legacy that is both inspiring and functional. Designers should analyze the anticipated building program, functions and needs to expertly execute the current project while ensuring it is flexible and adaptable to future uses and contexts.

  • 3.2.1

    Sense of Place

    Select colours, materials and styles to create a building aesthetic complementary to adjacent properties and indicative of the surrounding area. Avoid exotic materials and forms that are not representative of the region.

  • 3.2.2


    Design buildings to be inter-generational and prioritize styles, materials and techniques that will age gracefully and retain their character and patina with time.

  • 3.2.3


    Employ noble, durable and authentic materials to create high-quality buildings, with elegant detailing and architectural features.

  • 3.2.4


    Make building floorplans and structural design flexible for various future uses. Favour generous ceiling heights, structural capacity and adaptable partition walls that can accommodate multiple future uses.

  • 3.2.5

    Envelope and Cladding

    Include finely detailed patterns of structure, cladding and material variation that provide visual interest and rhythm.

  • 3.2.6


    Shape rooflines with interesting angles, profiles, contours and overhangs to accentuate the building mass and define the top of the building envelope.

  • 3.2.7


    Provide fine-grained architecture along street frontages and public spaces, with richly detailed ground floor façades.

  • 3.2.8


    Create finely designed and detailed principal entrances that present an identifiable and welcoming point of entry and arrival experience.

  • 3.2.9


    Draw public view into buildings through windows. Emphasize visual interaction along ground floors, especially those facing public spaces.

  • 3.2.10


    Avoid blank exterior walls. Activate blank walls with detailing, art or landscaping to minimize their visual impact.

3.3 Landmarks and Iconic Structures

Major civic buildings and structures offer opportunities to create iconic and memorable places. Each new structure adds a layer of history and culture that must be artfully woven into the existing context and hierarchy of places. Bridges, monuments, museums and federal institutions are all highly visible and symbolic built elements that contribute to the identity and character of the Capital.

The objective is to create a lasting legacy of symbolic and memorable landmarks for future generations. Not every building is a signature landmark, but prominent locations must be designed with special care and intention. Designers must assess and determine whether the project’s role is to stand out, or to blend in. Landmarks and iconic structures must reflect the pluralism of Canadian culture and strive to create an inspiring, inclusive and meaningful Capital.

  • 3.3.1

    Signature Landmarks

    Distinguish major civic projects by creating unique and iconic physical forms that will represent the Capital on a national and international level.

  • 3.3.2


    Design landmarks and symbolic places to enhance the public realm and respect the pluralism of Canadian culture and values of democracy, diversity and inclusion.

  • 3.3.3

    Iconic Forms

    Create unique and identifiable signature buildings with interesting profiles and silhouettes that contribute to the Capital skyline and serve as recognizable landmarks.

  • 3.3.4


    Design for both the monumental and the human scales. Respect the hierarchy of surrounding landmarks and the symbolic importance of the setting.

  • 3.3.5


    Design iconic buildings to reflect and accentuate the locale. Creatively interpret and complement vernacular forms.

  • 3.3.6

    Artistic Expressions

    Infuse artistic and interpretive elements into major design projects to enliven and enhance the Capital experience.

3.4 Sustainable Buildings

Environmentally responsible buildings and structures support a livable Capital for generations to come. Ensuring the Capital’s buildings are sustainable and fit for purpose demonstrates a commitment to building a Capital that is resilient to climate change.

Designers must pay careful attention to site conditions, material selection and sustainable design principles throughout the design process, seeking low greenhouse gas emissions, low energy consumption and high metrics of human comfort. The objective is to develop projects that are both functional and ecologically responsible through best practices in sustainable building design.

  • 3.4.1

    Sustainable Energy

    Prioritize renewable energy sources and creatively integrate infrastructure into the building design through placement, material and colour choice. Novel and interesting energy systems may be visually emphasized in select cases.

  • 3.4.2

    Energy Efficiency

    Orient and design building envelopes to optimize energy efficiency and thermal performance. Consider elements such as cladding, windows, thermal mass, solar exposure and other design choices.

  • 3.4.3

    Water Systems

    Minimize water consumption and waste by integrating water systems into the building and site design. Employ rainwater harvesting, bio-retention swales, cisterns and grey-water recapture to reduce demand for potable water.

  • 3.4.4

    Automation and Monitoring

    Employ automated systems with monitors and controls to reduce energy consumption and minimize waste (e.g. lighting and climate controls).

  • 3.4.5

    Ecological Impact

    Orient and design the building to minimize environmental disturbance and support ecological processes (e.g. bird safety, pollinator habitat, light trespass).

  • 3.4.6


    Treat building roofs as opportunities to improve building performance and amenities (e.g. green roofs, rooftop gardens, high-albedo surfaces, renewable energy generation).

  • 3.4.7

    Exterior Lighting

    Highlight and accentuate interesting features of the building while preserving the dark sky and minimizing light trespass. Limit lighting to what is necessary and appropriate to the role of the building.

  • 3.4.8


    Reclaim and reuse buildings and building materials adaptively. Exhibit and emphasize unique reused materials and features.

  • 3.4.9


    Prepare buildings to withstand extreme conditions and emergencies (e.g. power loss, extreme temperatures, variable precipitation, flooding).

3.5 Ancillary Structures and Equipment

The Capital is beautiful and dignified, but it also requires functional and practical ancillary features that support its operations. These elements may be part of a larger structure or stand-alone facilities that support essential city functions and engineering requirements.

Designers should carefully consider the engineering and servicing requirements from the outset of a project. The objective is to discreetly integrate these elements into their surroundings to provide safe, efficient and reliable service without detracting from the quality of public spaces and the Capital experience.

  • 3.5.1

    Placement and Location

    Locate utilitarian installations away from building entrances and public spaces, while ensuring easy access for maintenance and operation purposes.

  • 3.5.2


    Hide and camouflage ancillary structures through architectural screening, planting or landforms to minimize their visual impact. Artistic screening techniques may be appropriate.

  • 3.5.3

    Meters and Mechanical Equipment

    Integrate service meters and mechanical equipment into the building façade (e.g. alcoves, indents) or tastefully screen via utility cabinets or architectural details that complement the building’s style and materials.

  • 3.5.4


    Make hazardous infrastructures (e.g. electrical transformers, dams, turbines) safe and secure without detracting from or encumbering the public realm. Beautify and showcase where possible and avoid blank façades, fencing or visual clutter.

  • 3.5.5

    Rooftop Equipment

    Limit the protrusion of rooftop equipment (e.g. heating and cooling equipment, antennae, communication dishes). Integrate them into the roofline, locate them to avoid prominence on building edges and select subordinate colours.

  • 3.5.6


    Locate and scale outbuildings (e.g. pumping stations, mechanical outbuildings, storage structures) to be subordinate and complementary to any primary buildings in terms of materiality and form. Locate to blend into the setting through strategic design, screening and landscaping.

  • 3.5.7

    Hydro Structures

    Place utility poles, transformers and kiosks in discreet locations. Avoid encumbering public spaces or routes. Select subtle earth-tone colours to recede into the landscape or employ them as canvases to enliven the public realm.

  • 3.5.8

    Communication Towers

    Locate towers to minimize visual impacts on the surroundings. Prioritize opportunities to camouflage or co-locate with other elements.

  • 3.5.9

    Piping and Wiring

    Integrate exterior piping and wiring (e.g. downspouts, conduits) tastefully into the building façade to complement the building materials and colour palette.

  • 3.5.10


    Integrate ventilation systems into the building and landscape without detracting from the public realm. Avoid vents onto public areas, which may create noise, odour or other disturbances.