Capital Illumination Plan

Ottawa, Ontario

Photo Credit: National Capital Commission


Research by: Samantha Miller

Edited by: Nicole Brekelmans

Case study compiled in 2019



Project:  Capital Illumination Plan

Type of Urban StrategyEcological Infrastructure 

Type of ProjectMaster plan / Lighting 

LocationOttawa & Gatineau, Ontario 

Date Designed/Planned: 2017

Construction Completed Goal: 2027


Senior Architect, Design and Land Use at the National Capital Commission:

Chris Hoyt

External Lighting Consultant:

Alain Guilhot (Alain Guilhot Lumière)

Landscape Architect:

Gérald Lajeunesse

Heritage Architect:

Georges Drolet (EVOQ Architecture)


The Capital Illumination Plan was approved by the Board of Directors on September 12, 2017. The concept is a long-term plan for the future, with a timeline that extends until 2027 and the implementation of the final plan already initiated. The Capital Illumination Plan represents the federal government's key statement on illuminating the core area of the National Capital region, including core parts of both Ottawa and Gatineau, and the Ottawa River. The Capital’s nightlight offers very memorable experiences for residents and visitors, showcasing its distinctive character while contributing to a sustainable future.


The plan attempts to not only enhance the Capital’s nighttime beauty and enrich nightlife experiences of residents and visitors, but it aims to promote environmentally responsible lighting practices. Some of the illumination projects that have already begun or have been completed are the Richmond Landing Shoreline, the National Holocaust Monument, Rideau Hall, and the National Arts Centre.


“Urban illumination is associated with safety and visual comfort, but also plays a role in a city’s image and attractiveness. Lighting technologies are evolving and the ability to illuminate architecture and urban features is improving. Sophisticated lighting designs are also increasingly used for special events. At the same time, illumination’s impact on the natural environment and human health is better understood. The wealth and beauty of the National Capital Region’s landscapes contribute to our nation’s strong and unique identity and should be showcased both day and night.”

(National Capital Commission, 2017)



The Capital Illumination Plan aims to illuminate the core area of the National Capital Region which includes the area on both sides of the Ottawa River. The two municipalities included are the Ville de Gatineau (province of Quebec) and the City of Ottawa (Province of Ontario), the Ottawa river making up about one-third of the entire study area. Canada’s Capital Core Area Sector Plan (NCC 2005) outlines the boundaries of the study area, with the exception of including the site of the Canadian Museum of Nature.

Showcasing nighttime landscapes is an emerging international movement, which became the basis for building the Capital Illumination Plan. Through the replacement of lighting systems and alignment of existing designs, the plan hopes to make the core of the city a model of visual aesthetics and environmental stewardship.

(National Capital Commission, 2017)

“What is a lighting master plan?

A lighting master plan enhances the beauty, safety and enjoyment of a city after dark, and shapes the identity of a place. It includes recommendations related to the following.

Urban environment: Access and wayfinding for public spaces, public safety and comfort, and the protection of natural areas

Artistic lighting: The creation of ambiences, speciality lighting, colour temperature and temporary light installations

Energy savings: The management of investment costs, programming for energy savings and the maintenance of lighting infrastructure

Natural environment: The reduction of light pollution, night biotope protection, environmental footprint of the global lighting system and recycling sources”

(National Capital Commission, n.d.)


The core of Canada’s Capital is the centre of the entire region’s cultural, social, and economic life. Tens of thousands of people live and work in the urban centre that is comprised of two large cities and the river. Business, restaurants, performance and animation areas, cultural institutions, and residential neighbourhoods are mixed within the core and contribute to the prosperity and dynamism of the region.

Water is an important feature in the Capital core, providing a very prominent natural landscape and ecosystem that must be preserved and highlighted. The Ottawa river is connected to the Rideau and Gatineau rivers, the Ruisseau de la Brasserie (Brewery Creek), and the Rideau Canal. These waterways have a large impact in the urban settlement, originally a focus for Indigenous occupation, and later for prosperous forestry-based industries which fueled the region’s economic development. There are green corridors that line the waterways, including the Parliament Hill escarpment, the shores of the Ottawa River, Jacques-Cartier Park and smaller urban parks.

Because of these different landscapes and identities, the Capital Illumination Plan is intended to highlight the coexistence of these identities, recognize, respect and strengthen the identities, as well as celebrate the wealth generated by the diversity of the area.

(National Capital Commission, 2017)


A general consensus of the National Capital Commission was that action needed to be taken to better illuminate the Capital, to impact the identity of the Capital and serve as a nighttime guide for visitors.

French lighting designer Alain Guilhot along with Ottawa’s MMM group and Quebec City-based Lumipraxis began with an analysis of the Capital Region’s nightlife and found that a comprehensive nocturnal strategy was clearly missing. They agreed that in developing the plan, it was crucial that it should benefit the input and insight of Canadians and that it accurately reflects the context and history of Canada’s Capital.

A few projects had already been put in place, that they were able to align with the Capital Illumination Plan. For example:

“Parliamentary Precinct: This is a district plan within our Capital Illumination Plan and a precedent for future projects.

National Press Building: We participated in mock-ups with the proponent to ensure ongoing coordination with our plan.

Government Conference Centre: Public Services and Procurement Canada worked to align the design phase with goals set out for the Capital Illumination Plan. We look forward to coordinating further in the next phases of the project to illuminate this important building in a way that aligns with its prominent place in the capital, and the important role it will serve in our democracy as the home of the Senate for the coming decade or more.

Château Laurier: The Château Laurier’s new addition is an opportunity to update and modernize their lighting scheme.

National Arts Centre: We worked with the NAC on their major renovation so the lighting for this important building, including the new lantern, will sensitively integrate into this area facing Confederation Boulevard and the National War Memorial.”

(Hoyt, 2017)


Since the study area consists of sites on both sides of the Ottawa River, the plan deals with two provinces (Quebec and Ontario), each with its own government and respective policies. This means that both governments and communities must be cooperative and have the same vision for Canada’s Capital.

Since there are multiple illumination projects taking place in the Parliamentary Precinct, it is more difficult to anticipate global interaction between all of the projects to achieve the overall design concept. In order to combat this, the projects are implementing lighting designs that are adjustable in case there are changes to be made once more lighting projects are completed.

In terms of sustainable lighting, it is critical that there is a respect for nature and living beings. Although the plan is aimed at lighting for aesthetic purposes and social activities, it could have opposite effects on environmental health. A challenge with this is finding a way to maximize the social and economic benefits of illumination without putting environmental systems in jeopardy.

(National Capital Commission, 2017)


Through its ability to create nighttime appeal, lighting is an urban strategy that offers an opportunity to strengthen the identity and position of the National Capital Region. Urban illumination is associated with safety and visual comfort but also plays a role in a city’s image and attractiveness. Lighting technologies are evolving and the ability to illuminate architecture and urban features is improving. Sophisticated lighting designs are also increasingly used for special events. At the same time, illumination’s impact on the natural environment and human health is better understood. The wealth and beauty of the National Capital Region’s landscapes contribute to our nation’s strong and unique identity and should be showcased both day and night.

More specifically, the objectives of the Capital Illumination Plan are as follows:

- To enhance the Capital’s nighttime beauty.

- To enrich the resident and visitor experience.

- To promote environmentally responsible lighting practices.

- To support existing planning, heritage conservation and urban design strategies.

- To strengthen ties and collaboration between federal partners, the City of Ottawa, the Ville de Gatineau, and other public- and private-sector stakeholders.

(National Capital Commission, n.d.)


The main considerations of the Capital Illumination Plans are:

-What parts of the city and which buildings should be illuminated? This consideration involves assessing a building or space’s contribution to safety of visual comfort, its heritage, historical, cultural, architectural and social value, its communicative value, and the environmental sensitivity of the site.

-Who are the users of the site, and who will the site be visible to? When should it be visible and from how far? What type of environment is desired to be created, how will it be enjoyed, and by who?

-What type of lighting strategy is required for each site? Depending on the site and scale, how does it relate to the Capital’s history or public space? What are the characteristics of its natural environment or surrounding illumination setting? The architectural and landscape features of each site should be understood in order to fully realize how each feature should be emphasized and which materials react to which lights. For each site, what is its heritage designation, if there is one, and does it form part of a cultural landscape and from which era? The users of each site must also be understood to understand user traffic and which special points of interest should be highlighted.

They also considered the urban design of the Capital, trying to understand the character and aesthetics of light fixtures, and how they will be able to be maintained or replaced. Compatibility of the site and its surrounding areas in its physical context is important to note, as well as how specific colours and lighting effects will impact the environment without overloading it.

(National Capital Commission, 2017)


The plan relies heavily on the participation and cooperation of all stakeholders and their support. The idea must be well understood by all designers, in order to have a well-balanced nighttime composition that becomes a comprehensive urban planning and design tool. Many of the consultants of the National Capital Commission are designers, lighting consultants, architects and landscape architects, along with partners in design firms across the cities.

A design protocol was put in place to ensure a consistent approach for high-quality outcomes. The protocol includes identifying a team of at least one lighting designer, an architect with urban design experience, and a landscape architect to illuminate urban and landscape compositions. The designers will identify the important elements to illuminate, and which should not be illuminated (sky and natural ecosystems). Upon approval with the NCC, they will develop lighting details, and for major projects they use digital and 3D modelling to evaluate various lighting options. After submitting a final proposal, on-site testing is done, and the design development phase is completed, ready to await federal design approval from the NCC and the federal environmental review.

(National Capital Commission, 2017)


The National Capital Commission became inspired by other cities with a strong nightlife, especially those that use illumination to build their cities identities. For example, Washington and Paris both use nighttime illumination to showcase their special places, key national symbols and enhance the resident and visitor experience. Some other cities that do a great job of using lighting to highlight their identifying spaces are Gothenburg, Quebec City, Lyon, Copenhagen, Ghent, Rotterdam and Manchester. These cities also enrich the resident and visitor nightlife experience by creating pedestrian-safe lighting so that the tourist destinations can be experienced at night and not only during the day.

(Hoyt, 2017)


Capital Illumination Plan Review, 2017-2027 (2017). Retrieved May 11, 2017, from (2019, March 05). Capital Illumination Plan. Retrieved from Hoyt, C. (2017, June 22). Our Capital Identity at Night. Retrieved May 17, 2019, from


The NCC has identified several modes of lighting that will make up the basis of the plan. These include:

-Permanent Functional Lighting: lighting requiring activation for the entire night (e.g. streets, major pathways, public places, health and safety services, etc.)

-Public Transit System Lighting: lighting related to public transit networks

-Illumination Lighting: enhancing nighttime landscape (e.g. buildings, monuments, public art, etc.)

-Dark Zone Lighting: dedicated to areas identified as dark zones

-Seasonal Lighting: adjusting the lighting to the northern climate implications, such as how the reflectivity of snow effects the lighting concepts, and how the land-use changes once there is snow on the ground.

-Indoor Office Lighting: since there is plenty of glazing in contemporary architecture, it is important to control equipment that reduces or turns of lighting indoors at nighttime, to lower energy consumption, and bird collisions.

(National Capital Commission, 2017)


The National Capital Commission includes an Executive Management Committee, who oversee how the plan is implemented and how it continues to be maintained. Partners have supported the NCC in order to develop specific tools to help with the management and maintenance of the Illumination Plan. This includes a common geo-reference database that would include all light points in the area and related information. This would make it possible to draft accurate lighting maps of the area and determine existing conditions of the areas, in order to provide vital tools for managing the lighting system. It also serves as a starting point for all of the centralized management. The NCC also has developed responsible environmental management practices to limit the adverse impacts of the lighting on the environment.

(National Capital Commission, 2017)