Winterizing heritage

Update on the former Egyptian Embassy residence

Hilary Duff

There is no shortage of goings-on at the corner of Range Road and Laurier Avenue East. Until recently, the lot was home to the Egyptian Embassy, a two-storey brick and timber residence constructed in 1924. The property was all but demolished in the fall of 2020.

Talk of demolition started in 2006 when the Egyptian government first put forward a request to rezone the property as an office building. Heritage Ottawa, Action Sandy Hill, and many Sandy Hill residents opposed rezoning at the time, saying it would transform the residential character of the neighbourhood and put other similar buildings at-risk of conversion.

Photo Hilary Duff

The corner property is now a construction zone and hosts an impressive assemblage of tarps and scaffolding. Ottawa-based firm Graebeck Construction Ltd. has been hired to oversee the construction of the new propertyÑa contemporary, two-storey house plus basement that will be the residence for the Egyptian Ambassador.

A point of curiosity for Sandy Hill residents has been the decision to keep the two original corner-facing walls. Those are the structures now protected beneath the tarps. Andrew Splinter, Graebeck’s senior project manager for the site, says the plan was always to maintain the pair of walls in order to preserve the heritage appearance along the well-trafficked corner.

Photo Andrew Splinter

Keeping them standing, Splinter says, has been an interesting engineering challenge. He explains that the old foundations were structurally unsound, and the team had to dig out sections of the former foundation and fill it with concrete to construct a new foundation wall (a process called underpinning).

The scaffolding was erected to secure the two walls from the wind, and Splinter gestures at a photo on his phone showing the wood reinforcement that edges the inside of the site.

Radiant heat is pumped around the structure via 2,500 feet of black hose. This prevents the freezing, thawing, and shifting of the ground, which could further compromise the structural integrity of the site.

Straw bales keep the heat at ground level and prevent frost from forming. “It’s so warm in there that the grass is growing through the hay,” remarks Splinter. “It costs the owner a significant amount more money to keep these walls than it would to tear them down.”

The completed residence will incorporate the two original walls as a facade for the new structure. “We’ll brace them back to the new building and then refinish the outside,” explains Splinter, who also worked on the retrofit of nearby St. Alban’s Church.

The Graebeck team is continuing to work through the winter months and expects to have the steel skeleton of the building standing by April of this year, with the full residence constructed by April 2022.

The corner of Range Road and Laurier Avenue East has become a four-season construction zone, with construction expected to wrap in April 2022.
Photo Hilary Duff