Urban planning and design have the potential to dramatically transform our collective surroundings, influencing and enabling the way we use public spaces. The Urban Design Challenge is a competition that invites students from across the country to come up with design concepts for sites in the National Capital Region (the region).
The competition is open to students enrolled in an accredited educational institution in Canada. The NCC encourages students to form interdisciplinary teams to consider all aspects of urban planning, site design, architecture, Indigenous planning and landscape design.
This year’s competition will focus on repairing and re-stitching the urban fabric in the Core Area of the region. It will address vacant and under-utilized street lots where improvements from an urban design perspective can enhance the public experience.
Students are challenged to propose innovative planning and design ideas for the Sussex Drive Corridor, extending from the National Gallery of Canada to the grounds of Rideau Hall (Ottawa, Ontario).
Role of the National Capital Commission
The National Capital Commission (NCC) is the federal Crown corporation dedicated to ensuring that Canada’s Capital is a dynamic and inspiring source of pride for all Canadians, and a legacy for generations to come. The NCC is responsible for the long-term planning of the NCR and is the approval authority for federal lands and buildings. In addition to its planning and approval roles, the NCC is also the steward and manager of many important properties throughout the Capital, including historic buildings and places, public spaces, parks, squares, parkways, shorelines and green spaces.
At the pinnacle of the Capital Planning Framework stands the Plan for Canada’s Capital, 2017–2067. This plan lays out a blueprint for the evolution of federal lands in the NCR over a 50-year horizon; it is the NCC’s pre-eminent planning document. The Capital Planning Framework also includes sector plans, which further refine the themes, goals, policies and strategies for geographic areas within the NCR. Canada’s Capital Core Area Sector Plan guides decision making and informs future planning initiatives for the heart of the capital region.
About the Sussex Drive Corridor
The study area is in the heart of the NCR – the downtown cores of Ottawa and Gatineau – known as the Core Area. Sussex Drive extends from Rideau Street to the Official Residence of the Governor General of Canada, Rideau Hall. The area features many national symbolic institutions, cultural landscapes, commemorations, and public open spaces, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Global Centre for Pluralism, the Royal Canadian Mint, the Ottawa Rowing Club, Earnscliffe, the National Research Council of Canada, the Commonwealth Air Force Memorial, Green Island, the Fraser School House, McTaggart’s Wall, Rideau Falls and Park, the International Peace Garden, and 50 Sussex, home of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
A major initiative is underway to redevelop Kìwekì Point (formerly known as Nepean Point), the public space next to the National Gallery of Canada, and to establish it as a key Capital destination. Building on this momentum, the NCC is seeking new ideas for the adjacent segment of the Sussex Corridor, bound by the National Gallery of Canada, the Ottawa River, 50 Sussex, and MacKay Street (see Figure 1). Connecting these destinations will be essential for the development of public access from downtown to Sussex North.
About Confederation Boulevard
Sussex Drive is an important segment of Confederation Boulevard, the Capital’s ceremonial discovery route which encircles portions of downtown Ottawa and Gatineau. This is the route that foreign dignitaries take for processions and state visits. Forming a 7.5-kilometre loop, Confederation Boulevard includes several symbolically important streets along federal lands and passing national landmarks. This ceremonial route is characterized by broad tree-lined walkways, distinctive street furniture, a row of tall lampposts, each bearing a bronze maple leaf at the top, and several lookouts and viewpoints.
A change in focus
Like many major North American cities, mid-20th century growth and modernist planning principles resulted in the demolition of finer grain development in favour of monolithic buildings on large blocks (see Figure 2). As a result, land use in the area today is predominantly federal offices, institutional buildings, and embassies. Many of the federal uses in the area preclude public access due to their security needs. These conditions have created a pedestrian environment that feels distant from its surrounding context. The NCC is interested in exploring opportunities for better integration of the federal institutions and assets in this area, as well as the reintroduction of finer grained development in order to add vibrancy, create a more pleasing pedestrian experience, and create a stronger visitor destination. The incomplete pathway network and long walking distances are additional challenges to be resolved through the design of this corridor.
The Ottawa and Rideau rivers and Rideau Falls contribute significantly to the area's character and are reminders of the region’s water-based heritage. The NCC is interested in increasing the public’s access to and enjoyment of the waterways through increased animation. There are significant topographical differences between the waterways and Sussex Drive, which present challenges to increasing public access and taking full advantage of the river shoreline. Additionally, preserving and enhancing the picturesque wild escarpment of the Ottawa River remains important.
Over the coming years, the NCC will update the Core Area Sector Plan to guide the development of the federal lands in the Core Area, including the Sussex Corridor. The Urban Design Challenge presents an opportunity to contribute to the Plan through the exploration of interventions that reintegrate a finer grained urban fabric into the study area, while creating vibrant destinations through thoughtful placemaking.
What should be done in the Sussex Corridor to repair the urban fabric and create a more vibrant Capital Core Area?
- Increase the vitality of Confederation Boulevard and adjoining federal lands, and enhance their relationship to the adjacent municipal fabric
- Create new opportunities for the public to access and enjoy waterfront lands that will animate the area year-round, during the day and evening
- Connect existing public spaces overlooking the Ottawa River with a continuous multi-use promenade
- Create attractive and vibrant places for people of all ages and abilities
- Protect and enhance important views
- Showcase design concepts that reflect Indigenous design principles
- Consider opportunities for engagement in relation to diversity, equity and inclusion practices (i.e., Universal Accessibility, multiculturalism and Indigenous engagement)
Jury and Evaluation Criteria
A jury of interdisciplinary planning, design and site management professionals will review the submissions and select competition winners. A winning submission will provide bold design concepts that consider the following:
- site context
- leading sustainability elements
- Indigenous engagement and design principles
- environmental and ecological features
- public access and four-season use
- tourism and recreational opportunities
- current master plans and policies
- integration with current transit and multimodal systems
- opportunities for additional active mobility
- universal accessibility
|December 6, 2022||Competition launches|
|January 26, 2023||Last day for registration|
|February 21, 2023||Last day to send questions|
|March 3, 2023||Information session|
|March 28, 2023||Submissions due|
|March 30 to April 20, 2023||Jury consideration|
|April 24-25, 2023||Winners will be contacted|
|May 24, 2023||Awards presentation in the Capital|
The winning project team will receive the first-place award of $750 and a trip to Ottawa, Canada’s Capital. The second-place award is $500 for the runner-up team.
The jury may determine honourable mention awards as well. There are no monetary prizes associated with these awards.
The winning team will be invited to present their ideas at a special awards presentation session of the NCC’s Capital Urbanism Lab on May 24, 2023. Travel and accommodation expenses for the winning team will be covered (see details that follow under Terms of Reference, Eligibility, to learn about the rules).
The competition is open to any students who are currently enrolled in a design-focused program at an accredited educational institution in Canada. The maximum number of participants per team is three.
The NCC encourages students to form interdisciplinary teams. Proposals should consider aspects of urban planning, architecture, site design, inclusive public access, Indigenous engagement and design principles, landscape architecture and design, and transportation planning. A diverse team of complementary skills is likely to result in a more successful submission.
Registration for the Urban Design Challenge 2023 is now closed. We thank all registered teams for their participation. More information on competition terms and conditions.
Questions and answers
Are the questions going to be addressed immediately or will all questions be addressed at the Information Session?
We will strive to address all questions received about the 2023 Urban Design Challenge during the Information session. All questions, including those we did not have the time to address will be posted under FAQs on the webpage shortly after the event.
When do we need a team name by and are, we able to change the name afterwards?
Team names are not required as part of the Urban design challenge.
Am I allowed to contact specific experts I know (unaffiliated with the NCC) who work in the fields of architecture, urban design and municipal policy, as well as members of the Lowertown and New Edinburg communities, to refine the concepts in my submission? Even if it means revealing some of my ideas for the area under study?
Your submission and work should reflect your own ideas. We ask that teams not pursue consultation with other experts, interest groups or members of the public as primary sources. Secondary sources such as reports, articles or plans may be used or referenced in your submission.
For the poster submission of Up to two 60.96-cm x 91.44-cm (24-in. x 36-in.), can this be merged into one poster that is 48-in. x 72-in?
No, please prepare two posters up to the specified dimensions.
Do you have any additional maps (ex. Cadastral maps, land use maps, base maps, etc.) to share with students?
Base CAD files have been provided. Students can also access the 2005 Core Area Sector Plan maps through the NCC website (see Annex 1-17).
Do you have maps for us to use with specific areas to redo?
Students can use existing base CAD files or aerial images to illustrate their ideas for interventions within the Sussex Corridor.
How rigid are the boundaries of the site? Are we able to make proposals that involve the surrounding area as well?
The jury will evaluate the proposals on the elements shown within the study area. However, as a theme of the contest is urban fabric repair, proposals that establish linkages with the surrounding area may be judged as more realistic and comprehensive.
Can we input private property changes as suggested changes?
Yes, though it is advisable to recognize (e.g. in brief text or symbology) where private interests are being affected.
Are there restrictions to building on Green Island?
Not specifically. Proposals may make alterations to existing installations/buildings, or unbuilt areas of Green Island.
Can we remove trees?
Yes, with justification and in accordance with the NCC’s 2021-2026 Forest Strategy.
Considering that the study area includes federal properties, like the Royal Canadian Mint and the National Research Council, are we permitted as participants to suggest changes to these properties? If so, in what way are we allowed to suggest such changes (for example, changes to the existing building, the use and development of open spaces, parking lots or perimeter security fencing)?
Yes, participants will be able to propose changes to these institutions. We advise that you clearly explain the reasoning underlying your proposals.
Which street lots are vacant and under-utilized?
Students can apply a use of a figure ground, urban density calculation, and/or google street view to support the position of vacant and under-utilized sites.
What are the undeveloped parcels being used for?
In many cases, the existing uses are passive. The undeveloped parcels represent the most interesting opportunities for repairing the urban fabric in this sector.
Would I be disqualified if I focus on a smaller scale of the site?
No, however, other proposals may be at an advantage resulting from their addressing the entire corridor.
How technical should the design be?
Not to exceed conceptual/schematic design. The proposals should provide enough detail for jurors to grasp the major elements of the proposal.
Will we need measurements of the streetscape, building heights, setbacks? Or are general concepts/ideas okay?
No, teams will not need to take precise measurements on site. Measurements may be gleaned from the CAD/GIS files and other resources that teams have at their disposal.
How much of the site can we change?
There may be elements that teams may wish to identify for protection, while proposing creative ideas for change within the corridor. You may propose changes to existing buildings and infrastructure with justification.
Will there be a local Indigenous person who will be part of the process afterwards?
The jury includes an NCC Indigenous Affairs, Liaison professional who will contribute to the evaluation of this component of the submission.
Does the government have a relationship with Algonquin Anishinabe Nation and what is said relationship?
Please refer to the NCC website for more information on Indigenous engagement.
Is there only one Reconciliation Action Plan available?
Students are welcome to refer to secondary sources and reports, including references to non-NCC materials, to support their proposals.
Do you have local Indigenous art that you already have access to?
Submissions may include references to Indigenous artworks.
How do you suggest we plan for Indigenous peoples when none of us are Indigenous?
Submissions may include or consult references to existing best practices on Indigenous engagement, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action, and/or propose specific approaches for the purposes of this competition exercise.
Are there previous contest plans we could see as examples?
Please consult the NCC website for public details on the 2020 Design Competition.
How many plans have been proposed previously? If any, why have they been denied?
The planning process is iterative and situated within a long continuum. Some planning ideas have persisted in various forms throughout the decades. While some have been implemented in various forms, other ideas have not for various reasons. There are no proposals to highlight that have been denied.
As participants, are we allowed access to data on vehicle traffic regular parking lot use and documents highlighting environmental, architectural, heritage or security constraints related to the properties included in the area under study? If so, can we ask for assistance in accessing these resources?
We recommend that you consult the open access data available or the information packages provided by the NCC.
Are we able to change vehicular circulation?
Yes, however Sussex Drive remains a key component of Confederation Boulevard in the eyes of the NCC. You may consult the Capital Pathway Strategic Plan.
Are we allowed to suggest new public transit routes for our proposed design?
What is the average occupancy of the parking spots on Lady Grey Drive, at the Rowing Club, and at National Research Council of Canada?
These spaces are currently well used during the day for commuters. No specific statistics are available.
Are there any restrictions on modifying the existing parking lot spaces?
Changes to the parking lots are welcome.
Are you aware of any fences along Sussex that are not necessary from a security standpoint?
Are there security requirements for Confederation Boulevard? (ex. Does it need to be 2 lanes in each direction to accommodate motorcades?)
Ideas to alter Confederation Boulevard are possible.
What are the security requirements of the NRC Heating and Cooling Plant at 98 Sussex Drive?
Are they demolishing any older buildings in this area that are not in use?
There are no current plans for demolitions.
Is the use of these buildings being changed?
There are no specific known changes of use.
Is there any street culture we should know about as outsiders?
Nothing specific to this challenge.
Is there a required setback from the river? Can we propose constructions above the water?
There is a 30 m setback for buildings. Public realm enhancements (pathways, street furniture, etc.) are welcome.
Should proposals consider the weather?
Yes. Concepts that include four-season activities are welcome.
Has the community expressed concerns about this area in other public consultations?
No. Nothing specific to this area. Students may consult secondary sources (business improvement zones, community groups and other consultation material).
Is there a budget that our proposals should work within? If there is not an exact budget, should the project be idealistic or realistic?
There is no specific budget. Plans should definitely be aspirational, but keep in mind that proposals must also be feasible.
If there is interest in some small to medium-sized infrastructure, what level of detail would be best for architectural elements?
We are interested in infrastructure that reflects the objectives of the various plans that are relevant to your chosen site. Regarding the level of detail, we want conceptual drawings, not construction drawings, for architectural elements. You may provide information in plan, elevations, sections and pedestrian eye-level views.
Submissions may be prepared in either of Canada’s two official languages (English and French). Competition submissions are due no later than 11:59 pm Daylight Saving Time on March 28, 2023. All submissions will be made via the NCC’s FTP site; further details will be provided to participants after registration. No hard copies of materials will be accepted.
The Urban Design Challenge is an anonymous competition. No names or identifying symbols of participants shall appear on submitted material or in filenames.
Submissions should consist of the following elements:
- Up to two 60.96-cm x 91.44-cm (24-in. x 36-in.) boards in PDF format. The filenames should include the registration number (e. g. “Board_12345”). All drawings and architectural scales should be expressed in metric.
- A written statement not exceeding 500 words explaining the ideas. The file should be in .txt or Word format. The filename should include the registration number (e. g. “Written_12345”).
- A document with contact information for the participating individual/team. The document should include the project title, participant name(s) and email address for primary contact. The filename should include the registration number (e. g. “ID_12345”). The sources of any third-party material incorporated in the entry must also be included.
Rules and regulations
For complete rules and regulations, click here.
Ownership and copyright
Each participant shall retain ownership of the copyright associated with the entries submitted.
By submitting an entry, each participant grants the NCC a non-exclusive perpetual licence to use, reproduce, publish, modify, incorporate into other work, distribute and promote, in whole or in part, the materials submitted by the participant for any non-commercial or commercial purpose, in any format whatsoever, including print, digital publication, audio, video and all other media (whether now known or later developed), in any form, without territorial limits and without attribution.
By submitting an entry, participants warrant that their entry is original. See the design brief.
Resources and references
- The Plan for Canada’s Capital, 2017–2067
- Sustainable Development Strategy, 2018–2023
- Canada’s Capital Core Area Sector Plan
- Capital Illumination Plan, 2017-2027
- Capital Pathway Strategic Plan
- National Capital Commission, Canada’s Capital Views Protection, November 2007, Protecting the Visual Integrity and Symbolic Primacy of Our National Symbols
If you are interested in receiving updates about this Urbanism Lab event or future events, please sign up for the newsletter.