“Papa” was the winning submission in a national public art and landscape integratio competition held by the Canadian National Capital Commission.
Situated in Gatineau, Québec, the work is accessed from Ottawa via the Alexandra Bridge. The work is aligned with a neighbouring apartment block of “modest” quality, anchoring it to its context and introducing a loose form of bilateral symmetry with respect to the centre of Boulevard des Allumettières. This creates a framework for a work that in the first instance intends to perform as a gateway to the city and to its park.
A glass wall reaches a height of 14.4m at the southeast corner of the site. It then spirals downward until it reaches a height of 2.4m at the northwest interior of the site. In concert with its folded geometry, perspective is dramatised and spatial hierarchy is established. The front of the site is urban, the symbolic gateway to the city and to the park. It performs at the “fast” scale of a busy traffic intersection. The rear of the site is intimate, a response to the “slow”, residential character of neighbourhood life.
Vertical stripes of transparent coloured glass accentuate the structure’s height and form. Because of its south orientation, a dramatic wash of coloured light is projected through its walls and on into the site on sunny days. The play of transparencies and reflections further accentuates a complex and palpable experience – a visual happening that if only momentarily, returns us to a child’s capacity for wonder.
In the winter, this wash is particularly striking given the starkness of the winter sun, coupled with snow’s capacity to reflect light. In the autumn, the work blends with Gatineau’s autumnal colours. In evenings, when lit, Papa glows like a lantern.
At both points of entry into the site, the glass wall and a folded, linear bench draw inward in an embracing gesture that welcomes cyclists and pedestrians into an intimate neighbourhood plaza.
The work seeks to engage its audience via intense perceptual experience in community. Its impressively scaled bench invites passers by to slow down and sit, so to generate public presence and therefore opportunities for chance encounters under which to view the ever-changing conditions that the passage of light works upon the space. In this sense, this work aspires to be a place where the contemporary tendency to privatize social relations is deterred - if only locally.