On the outside, it looks like a collection of dark blue shipping containers. Inside, it feels more like a sleek, tranquil spa. And when you ride its freight elevator eight storeys up, it affords you a birds-eye view of Chaudière Falls and Parliament Hill that might make you rethink the heart of the National Capital Region.
All of these aspects come together at the unique, multi-purpose facility called Zibi House, on the Gatineau shore of the Ottawa River. It opened Wednesday following a prayer in Algonquin Anishinaabe, which saluted the fact that it sits on unceded Algonquin territory.
Zibi House and its observation deck will open to the public May 1. It will be the sales centre for the 34-acre redevelopment of abandoned downtown waterfront that straddles the Quebec and Ontario border, encompassing Chaudière and Albert islands as well as a portion of the Gatineau shoreline. But it is also envisioned as a cultural centre that will attract visitors from beyond the development through varied programming such as gourmet dinners.
“This is not a regular sales centre. This is a dream centre,” said Alexander Josephson, co-founder of PARTISANS, the Toronto architecture and design firm that conceived of Zibi House.
Zibi House is a stone’s throw from the first Zibi condominium to open, a six-storey building simply called O that has sold 60 of its 70 units. Begun in 2015 and expected to finish more than a dozen years from now, the Zibi project, whose builders are Toronto-based Dream Unlimited and Ottawa-based Theia Partners, is forecast to have 5,000 residents, as well as offices and businesses, that bring 6,000 people to the property.
The project has lofty goals regarding sustainability, such that it is designated a One Planet Community, which places it among a growing global network of über-green neighbourhoods. Zibi will include eight acres of parks and public plazas, its waterfront will be publicly accessible and there will be streets that prioritize pedestrians over cars.
A public square on Zibi’s Gatineau side is to open this summer. Also this summer, the Cirque du Soleil production Alegria will be staged under its big top on the Zibi grounds.
The interior of Zibi House was designed by Toronto-based furniture and interior designer Paolo Ferrari. Ferrari has created a series of starkly different rooms, each of which is dedicated to a different sensory experience.
“We just want you to leave with a sense of joy,” Ferrari said.
The room dedicated to the sense of smell features fragrant plants and nods to local biodiversity. That room connects to the “sound” room, where Algonquin Anishinaabe music plays from an overhead dome, which in turn connects a room with mirrored ceiling and walls that is dedicated to “touch.” There, visitors can touch a screen that shows water, and which responds accordingly.
A tasting room showcases local foodstuffs — at the moment, honey made by the 2,000 bees on the Zibi site. The “sight” room is eight storeys up, at the top of the observation tower. “I never get tired of coming up here,” Ferrari said. “The sight is so majestic.”
Zibi House is to begin hosting dinners prepared by chef Jean-Philippe Cloutier, who has cooked not only at Beckta Dining and Wine, but also the world-class restaurants Noma and Atelier Crenn, said Scott Simpson, Zibi’s lead for events and community. Information regarding the dinners and other events will be posted at zibi.ca.
The abandoned industrial land that’s in the process of becoming Zibi was in the National Capital Region’s “blind spot,” Simpson said. “Nobody sees it anymore.
“We want to make this a destination.”