Building and Grounds

Designed to display the art treasures of a nation, the National Gallery of Canada marks the pinnacle of Canadian and international artistic achievement.

  • Design architect: Moshe Safdie
  • Cost of construction and landscaping: $122 million (CAD)
  • Groundbreaking: December 1983
  • Completion: April 1988
  • Inauguration: 21 May 1988
  • Area: 53,265 m2 (569,000 square feet)
  • Height: 43 m (140 feet) in the Great Hall
  • Exhibition space: 12,400 m2 (132,700 square feet)
  • Concrete poured for the building: 40,200 cubic metres (52,580 cubic yards)
  • Granite on floors and walls: 23,250 m2 (250,000 square feet) of Tadoussac variegated rose granite
  • Popular spots: The Great Hall, the Garden Court, the Water Court, and the Rideau Chapel

The soaring windows of the Great Hall capture the Parliament Buildings, the Ottawa River and the Gatineau Hills in vertical frames. Dramatic by day and stunning by night, the Great Hall welcomes the Gallery’s visitors from all over the country and abroad every day, and hosts an array of special events – from small candle-lit dinners to galas for hundreds of guests or a spectacular reception for as many as 1,500 people.

The cathedral-like Colonnade constructed of granite and glass, which connects the main entrance of the building to the Great Hall, and glass pavilions make the museum appear open and inviting. The long approach up the incline of the Colonnade – one of the longest ramp in recent architecture – creates an agreeable sense of anticipation. From the exterior, one sees a building that celebrates movement.

Located at the end of the Concourse off the Great Hall, and across from the Contemporary galleries, the Cafétéria des Beaux-arts has its own glass rotunda, access to a private patio and an inspiring view of Nepean Point, the Ottawa River and Parliament Hill. The cafeteria is designed to serve families and groups in an informal, self-service atmosphere.

The galleries are divided into six separate areas: the Canadian collection, the European, American, and Asian galleries, the Inuit galleries, a section for contemporary art (including video), another for prints, drawings, and photographs, and a separate space for temporary exhibitions.

Expansive windows, which offer a stunning panoramic view of Parliament Hill, Nepean Point and beyond, combined with warm furnishings, create an inviting environment for readers and researchers alike at the Gallery’s Library and Archives. With approximately 250,000 documents, including books, exhibition catalogues, bound periodicals, microforms, documentation files, study photographs, institutional archives and private papers, the Library and Archives of the NGC houses the most extensive collection of visual literature in Canada.

The National Gallery of Canada also provides the visitor with glass-covered, landscaped courtyards, which serve as welcome retreats, calming and restful places to pause and reflect. The Garden Court is planted with trees and seasonal flowers whereas the Water Court contains a shallow pool of rippling water which also acts as watery skylight for the lobby below.

Conveniently located near the main entrance of the Gallery, the Boutique offers visitors a range of catalogues, books, posters, stationery, unique gifts and souvenirs, jewelry, DVDs, games, and NGC merchandise.

The National Gallery of Canada’s building also includes an important area that is generally not accessible to the public. Linked to the main building by an elevated glass-enclosed walkway, the Curatorial Wing provides office space for the staff of the Gallery. It also contains conservation laboratories, workshops, extensive vaults and a study room for prints, drawings and photographs.

Landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander worked with Moshe Safdie to create the National Gallery’s indoor and outdoor gardens. Her inspiration for the taiga garden on the southeast side, with its severe northern beauty and muted colours, came from A.Y. Jackson's painting Terre Sauvage. On the northeast side, a sunken garden of 12 flowering crab-apple trees is surrounded by the living rock into which the building is set. The public walkway next to the sunken garden leads to a path that zigzags up the hill toward Nepean Point.

The Convent of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (a.k.a. the Rideau Street Convent) was a girls' school administered by the Sisters of Charity (formerly the Grey Nuns of the Cross). Its Rideau Chapel was the only known North American 19th century ecclesiastical interior to feature a neo-Gothic fan vaulted ceiling supported by slim cast-iron columns. In 1972, this treasure of our Canadian heritage was saved from destruction and eventually reconstructed inside the National Gallery of Canada spaces. It remains one of only two architectural exhibits in all North America.