West Block, Prime Minister’s Office

West Block, Prime Minister’s Office

Photos here were taken by the official project photographer Roberta Gal, who was intrigued by the father / daughter team that makes up Iconoplast. She was the only one at the site of over 600 crafts people.

The West Block is the oldest of all the Parliament buildings. The masonry structure was built in 1859 in the vision of architects Thomas Stent and Augustus Laver to evoke a Gothic Revival style; it is one of three Parliament Hill buildings that are part of a Natural Historic Site. Designated a classified federal heritage building over 100 years later in 1987, it has housed the Prime Minister, Cabinet and members of Parliament.

The years were not kind to the building, and the extent of deterioration was significant enough to empty it in 2011 for major rehabilitation. The historic plaster work had suffered major water damage. Iconoplast was commissioned to restore and repair that damage – a very difficult and challenging process – while modernizing the building in order to preserve its heritage characteristics; to take care of the exterior masonry and sculptural elements. To maintain the plaster we had to retool the original design and re-sculpt the ornament surface to preserve the detailing and finishes.

The Challenges of Paint Removal

Ornaments can be easily destroyed when the work is not executed by plaster conservators. Paint removal is the single most tricky and difficult task in plaster restoration; most certainly, this job was the hardest in my long career. Flaking, peeling or chipping paint is a much bigger problem than it sounds due to the porous nature of the plaster material; old paint has to be removed to stabilize the plaster. Doing so creates a fine dust, and to avoid damaging the plaster behind, infinite patience, a steady hand, special tools and technical expertise are required.