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Streamlining Science

NRC Montreal Road Campus

Julien Lacroix, Author

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Streamlining at the Montreal Road Campus

The original NRC Montreal Road Campus was very unified stylistically, with a combination of Streamline Modern curved forms, International Style horizontal strip windows and a restrained use of materials. It is almost as if the aesthetic quality of the 100 Sussex labs’ hallways has been superimposed onto the exterior of the buildings here. The buildings line a central road, which acts as the spine giving the campus structure. The new campus here also represents the modernist vision of starting from scratch, imposing a new layout with little regard to the existing fabric. This idea also plays into the Streamline Moderne’s aesthetic of cleanliness in line and in theoretical representation.

The first building one sees upon entering the campus is building M-2, the Aeronautical Research Building. This building was completed in 1940, designed by architect Henry Gordon Hughes. Building M-2 housed some administrative space, but was most notably an aerodynamic testing facility. Scale models of aircrafts, other vehicles and even skyscrapers were tested in large wind tunnels to evaluate their aerodynamic qualities. In consultation of the building’s floor plan, one can see that just over half of the building is dedicated to wind tunnels; one horizontal and one vertical. This informs the shape the outside of the building takes on, with its two wings and curved central tower. Although the following observation is more likely a coincidence rather than a deliberate part of the design, is that the building resembles an abstracted airplane, with the central tower as the body and the two wings as, well, wings! Nonetheless, the building’s white stucco exterior and streamline curves present the building as high tech design.[1]

This building, and all the buildings of the campus for that matter, unmistakable incorporate International Style elements, but streamlining also has links to Art Deco. The main entrance doors of the Aeronautical Research Building are marked by curved black corners leading into the doors, which are made of cast aluminum with airplanes in relief. This very limited and concentrated decoration is interesting because not only does it announce the kind of research that is taking place inside the building, but this helps show streamlining’s relationship with Art Deco. The decoration is streamline appropriate, depicting a fascination with an every increasing rate of speed and ease of movement. Another interesting observation of the airplane motifs is the fact that, when reading them from top to bottom, left to right (like a book), it maps the gradual move towards the streamlining of the airplane.

The architect Hughes designed other buildings on the campus, one of them being the Gas and Oil Research Lab (Building M-9). This building shows very well the mix between the International Style and Streamline Moderne. The rear of the building is simply a modernist block with a horizontal strip window. The front has streamlined corners and glass brick, a common staple of streamlined architecture.

Streamline Moderne architecture was not restricted to a 
certain kind of building function. What is unique at the Montreal Road Campus is the fact that an aesthetic that came out of scientific research is being used as a representative means for research buildings. So, although a link can be made between streamlining and research facilities like this one, there is no specific reason for the architects to have used streamlining in their designs.

[1]Kalman, Exploring Ottawa, 177.
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