A view of 24 Sussex Drive and surrounding greenery

Did you know the official residence of the Prime Minister of Canada, 24 Sussex Drive, has been left vacant for nearly a decade? When Right Honourable Justin Trudeau took office in 2015, he and his family moved to Rideau cottage. Located in Ottawa on the same property as the governor-general’s residence rather than move into the official Prime Minister’s residence.  

24 Sussex Drive is virtually uninhabitable. Our President Toon Dreessen blames the condition of the home on “demolition through neglect”. The last time any type of renovation took place on the home was in 1974 when the current Prime Ministers’ father, the Right Honorable Pierre Trudeau, PC  installed a pool. The uproar from taxpayers and the coverage from the media at the time set a precedent for future leaders to fear the idea of any renovations or repairs to the home. This decision ultimately left it in shambles, leading to its current unlivable state. 

Although it is currently in no state to house occupants; there has been more discussion surrounding the future of the residence and what can be done to make it livable for future leaders. Toon is advocating for renovations but also for a thoughtful restoration that maintains the history of the 1868 home while addressing the climate crisis. This is an opportunity to demonstrate Canadian architectural talent in heritage conservation, climate change and accessibility for the 21st century. 

Here are some of the renovations that would be seen If the restoration of 24 Sussex was awarded to Architects DCA. Firstly a deep energy retrofit of the current structure. The home and surrounding buildings would be upgraded in a way where the carbon footprint is greatly reduced. This would create a positive net energy result where the buildings are generating more energy than they are using all while having a zero carbon footprint. 

Some of the other aspects Toon would look to fix would be the restoration of some of the original heritage elements such as the stonework, trim, and other defining features. He would also restore the pool, surrounding buildings and the landscape to reflect the original character be that Victorian or Mid-century. Contemporary additions to create universal accessibility would be an important part of the updates as well as featuring an official state residence to host formal functions and events.

Finally, Toon feels that a separation between an official event space and a primary residence for the Prime Minister and their family would be called for. Having their own separate home that evolves with the need of each family over the years would produce a more flexible living arrangement tailored to the family’s needs. This separation would then allow for some of the grounds of 24 Sussex be open to the public. Allowing visitors to access the property would create trust in our government and would allow the government to demonstrate the actions that are being implemented to combat the greatest challenge of our generation: climate change.

These additions such as office space and heightened security can be added to create not only a home, but a formal space for state functions while also maintaining the building’s historical properties through the adoption of a net-zero building strategy. These renovations and restorations would be a huge opportunity for the Government of Canada to show the world what Canadian architects can do. 

Read more in this report by Emma Jacobs for NPR.

Toon Dreessen is president of Ottawa-based Architects DCA and past-president of the Ontario Association of Architects. For a sample of our projects, check out our portfolio here. Follow us @ArchitectsDCA on Twitter, FacebookLinkedIn and Instagram.