In 2016, the Bank of Canada completed a major renovation of its head-office building in Ottawa, Ontario. As part of this remodelling exercise, a graceful new helical staircase was added, connecting the ground floor with a conference centre and museum space below street level. Q-railing used the Easy Glass Max system to create seamless, all-glass stair balustrades for both sides of the curving stairway. They give a weightless appearance to the concrete structure and allow a flood of light down to the lower floor.

Updating a classic

The head office of the Bank of Canada was completed in 1938. A solid, grey-granite structure in classical style, it conveyed a powerful sense of institutional solidity. Over the years, changes were made to the building, adapting it to new requirements and new expectations. Increasingly, transparency and openness were the ideals that guided its development. They certainly influenced the 2014 – 2016 renovation. for which Q-railing created a pair of stunning all-glass stair balustrades.

New spaces

The ambitious renovation project, which had a budget of $460 million, addressed several pressing needs, including a requirement for larger meeting rooms. The bank made plans for a new conference facility, to be located in an existing basement area below the east tower. This subterranean site of 1,600 square metres was also identified as a suitable home for the bank’s museum. To give the new suite of rooms a bright and spacious feel, architects Perkins+Will created a design with a large ceiling aperture, through to the food-service area above. This was not only intended as a light well, but also as a means of access, via a flight of stairs. 

Sculptural stair balustrades

Working closely with structural engineer Adjeleian Allen Rubeli, Andrew Frontini of Perkins+Will developed a graceful design for a helical staircase. Although the finished article is cast in highly compressed concrete, it almost seems to float. Its sensuous form invites one to use it. 

Naturally, this elegant staircase required equally elegant stair balustrades. Moreover, they had to consist mainly of glass in order to maximise the amount of daylight reaching the basement area. Given the considerable challenge of fabricating structural glass to perfectly match a curving form, the designers turned to Q-railing for assistance. With only 4 months’ lead time, the Q-railing team were able to develop, engineer, supply and oversee installation of the required stair balustrades as well as other glass safety barriers.

Minimalist yet robust

The Easy Glass Max system – specifically the fascia-mount variant – was identified by Q-railing as the ideal product for the task. They recommended it not only for its ability to deliver high levels of safety, even in heavy-use public settings, but also for its minimalist look. Combined with the low-iron glass specified by the client, it ensures that the stair balustrades are nearly invisible from many angles. This effect enhances the lightness and flowing lines of the helical staircase.

In total, 36 metres of 3D-curved stair balustrade were installed, together with handrails for added safety, and top caps that finish the edge of the glass. Both of those features were supplied in oil-rubbed bronze – a material that is used throughout the bank’s offices. In addition, 45 metres of straight balustrade were installed around the aperture in the food-service area.



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