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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Toronto's ugliest building is also dangerous

A while ago I wrote a couple of posts on what I consider to be Toronto's ugliest building - the Michael Lee Chin Crystal addition to the Royal Ontario Museum. The short version - I hate it.

A few weeks ago I was back in Toronto and stopped by the ROM to see the exhibit on Charles Darwin, and as I stood in line outside the Bloor St. entrance I noticed that the sidewalk under the crystal's protruding jagged bits was roped off to keep pedestrians away from the huge icicles that were hanging from the building's overhang, threatening to impale passers-by.

Surprise, surprise - World Famous Architect Daniel Libeskind has designed a building which is completely unsuited to the winter weather of Canada's World Class City and can actually kill people who visit it. Check out this story by the Toronto Star's Christopher Hume:

If architects were as cavalier about gravity as they are about weather, half the buildings in this city would have fallen down by now.

The most recent and spectacular example of contemporary architectural hubris is Daniel Libeskind's addition to the Royal Ontario Museum, the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal.

Turns out its precariously angled aluminum and glass facades are the ideal icicle machine. If Libeskind had set out specifically to design a building that endangers passersby with falling ice, he couldn't have done better.

The exteriors protrude at just enough of an angle that snow can collect on them. They also happen to be made of materials that absorb heat from sunlight, melting the snow that then drips and freezes into large icy protrusions capable of seriously hurting anyone below.

Of course Hume & the rest of Toronto's intelligentsia don't see this as a problem. In fact, Hume makes good use of that uniquely Canadian talent - turning our shortcomings into virtues:

Architects are simply men (and women) of their time. Now that technology has liberated the profession from problems that kept their predecessors earthbound for millennia, the sky is the limit. Not only can they reach ever higher into the clouds, they are able to express themselves as never before.

For Libeskind, among our most poetic practitioners, that means creating structures like the Crystal that defy traditional limitations, including that of gravity itself. Who says walls must rise perpendicular to the ground?

Thus the contemporary architect is freed from conventional constraints to deal with more artistic issues. In Libeskind's case, that means creating an aesthetic appropriate to an age characterized by anxiety, pain and provocation. The Crystal evokes all this brilliantly.

It is a magnificent accomplishment, though most Torontonians feel otherwise. We are, it seems, an overwhelmingly practical lot, not given to flights of poetic fancy, whether in two dimensions or three. We also derive satisfaction from hearing of the misfortunes of the Libeskinds of the world.

Oh, please. The building is butt-ugly, dangerous and uniquely inappropriate for its location. Let's call a spade a spade.


Mé said...

In my opinion, the shape of the building is beautiful. It defies logic which is what I like about the Crystal. I do not like all that aluminum that imposes a barrier between those who are outside and inside. Outside, the crystal is mostly aluminum with some glass. It looks like a crushed pop can. Inside, the crystal seems dull and grey. There is very little opportunity to look outside at the beauty of Toronto. The icicles do look beautiful as they hang over the edges. However, these ice spears may become dangerous if they land on the pedestrians below. That can be fixed with a few Eurobucks supplied by the taxpayers of Ontario.

Anonymous said...

Yup, they can install those coil heater-thingys all along the edges, to melt the ice before it becomes dangerous. Not very green, perhaps, but consistent with the environment-be-damned ethos of the design of this thing and the ROM as an institution. And, hey, they can raise the admission price a little, too; $25 might be enough--for now--to cover the cost.

Babylonian777 said...

I have not seen it properly (I only passed by once) in person to comment. From pics, it looks like an ugly piece of crap, suitible for Toronto.

Very "New-York-wanna-be/Kiss-assish" of Hume to let them off the hook for that. Those iceicles can easily kill someone, I have seen close calls before.

I come from an engineering background, who happens to like architecture, but this is un-professional and a danger to the public. Don't you think city planning would have picked this up? Or do they also lick the A$$es of famous New York folks. Just being good Toronto citizens I guess, "Do first question later" can someone translate that into Latin? It should be Toronto's slogan.

Wonder Woman said...

I used to love taking the kids to the ROM but ever since they erected that offensive monstrosity, I refuse to give them a single dollar.

It looks like some bizarre, alien turd fell on what was a strikingly beautiful piece of classic architecture.

I'm waiting for the day that David Miller's high-pitched screeching makes every inch of state-of-the-art glass shatter into a milion pieces, and they have to tear the beast down.

It could happen.

Anonymous said...

The building has already had problems with water leaks.

They'll need to hire some acrobats from Cirque du Soleil to clean and caulk all those windows.

Anonymous said...

Go down to Home Depot and get a big eavestrough and some of those 4 inch eavestrough nails and Bob Rae's your uncle.

It's the vinyl siding that you wouldn't put on your hunt camp, that kills it.


Anonymous said...

What I find most offensive about that POS addition is that they demolished the last generation's trendy eye-sore to build this generation's eye-sore without learning the obvious lesson.

You have a beautiful, enduring heritage building upon which they vandalized it the first time with the 50's or 60's addition which didn't hold the test of time because they went with trendy instead of classical.

Now they decide that last gen's trendy isn't good enough so they repeat the error with this gen's trendy eye-sore - at great expense.

I thought the principle role of a museum was to preserve the nation's heritage - not vandalize and wreck it. Two generations of management have failed their most basic duty to the institution.

Is there a school where people learn stupid?


Anonymous said...

"In Libeskind's case, that means creating an aesthetic appropriate to an age characterized by anxiety, pain and provocation. The Crystal evokes all this brilliantly."

The Michael Lee-Chin Crystal: the architectural equivalent of a nervous breakdown.

Ellie in T.O.

Jim Whyte said...

Unless I have it very wrong, among the things the ROM cut to pay for this mutation was the world's best radiometric-dating lab.

Anonymous said...

With the Dinosaur exhibit as an example the Crystal simply does not do what any addition to the ROM must do, add lots more display space. While the Dinosaur exhibit is very good you end up walking into the incoming crowd as the exit and entrance use the same space. Most of the exhibit space is corridors and walkways on odd angles as there is no vertical exterior walls to hold the displays so they have to come farther into the main area. I agree that the Crystal detracts from this beautiful building.

Anonymous said...

It needs a grove of windmills and a pool of solar cells on top to power the ice melting heater coils. Green, ugly, and stupid - the new Toronto.

kursk said...

I've heard Hume on the radio before..he can turn any criticism of modern architecture into a rant on backward thinking Conservatives who support Harper..(who likes hockey, so obviously should have no opinion on such matters..!!)

Hume's bien peasant attitude makes one wonder why anyone should want to have a say in the look of Toronto's public spaces..the fear of being shouted down by your 'betters' puts off many of those who should be heard.

The crystal monstrosity on Bloor steet is not even built to the specifications originally intended.It looks as cheap and cheery as a Rona pre fab shed.

Anonymous said...

"I do not like all that aluminum that imposes a barrier between those who are outside and inside. Outside, the crystal is mostly aluminum with some glass. It looks like a crushed pop can. Inside, the crystal seems dull and grey."

I believe the original design had way more glass, but then someone pointed out that many museum artefacts are damaged by direct sunlight. They actually unveiled the conceptual model (to press and public) without having thought of this requirement. Utter, utter incompetence.

intellectual pariah

Anonymous said...

It's good to see a forty-something gay libertarian Conservative is more than willing to call a spade a spade and take on the "masterpiece" that owes it's existence to a sixty-something gay libertarian Conservative.

Like many people who are interested in architecture I've been paying attention to reno ROM for a couple years now, especially since the project was being spearheaded by William Thorsell, a former Edmontonian, who took on the self-appointed role of architecture critic while he was here and though that’s sort of before my time [memory wise], he seemed to make some fairly good points about the crappy architecture here. If you're unaware Edmonton is a city with a lot of potential these days and like TO we have an inferiority complex to go along with it. So of course we're going ahead with a gehryesque Art gallery downtown [to show that we can play with the big boys on the global stage... ya ok!] that like ROM seems to be despised by most regular people here.

Regular people... ya there's lots of reglar folk out here. I didn't even know until last week that Alberta is the only province left that doesn't have gay rights ensured in its charter of rights [it was in the news]. I never thought about it because I'm not gay and in Alberta it's every man, woman and child for themselves...[slight exaggeration]

I don't know about you [I saw this blog for the first time a few days ago] but I think most modern art ranges from some decent paintings and interesting sculptures to a lot of over-hyped amateurish crap pushed by Clement [flatness] Greenberg and it's only a matter of time before the western world realizes they've been had.

Deconstructivist architecture is just latest, most wastefully expensive wave of modernist architectural fashion and the built equivalent of cubism, occurring a century later now that technology finally makes it possible. The tulip [as in mania] colored glasses will eventually be smashed and all will be flushed at once, sooner or later. History is full of examples of mass delusion that stretch on for many decades, but when these periods end it’s a rude awakening for all true believers

This change will likely be brought about by the slow motion implosion of the western nanny states [starting of course with the U.S.], the reallocation of funds [to necessities such as decaying infrastructure] and the eventual dismemberment of the financial and intellectual structures that have long supported the proliferation of self-referential, arcane works of abstract contemporary art typically ignored by the general public until the ascendance of the gigantic in your face deconstructivist masterpieces. The rise and fall of deconstructivism will be seen as the blow off phase; the end of an epoch.

Look south to see that New Rome is already burning and the only remedy the bubbleheads can think of to put out the fire is to throw more money into it. They may indeed re-inflate the all-important consumer spending bubble one last time but that will likely lead the U.S. into a hyperinflationary crack-up boom.

But, enough soothsaying, back to ROM. When looking at news about it a year ago, I found there were quite a few gay bloggers saying both positive and negative things about It. One who liked it went so far as to say it was gay architecture although I'm not sure what that meant. It was then I found out Thorsell was gay too. It got me thinking about the supposed vast gay conspiracy, the CIA and its covert support of modern art during the cold war.

When thinking about that, it's hard to avoid considering the role of people such as Thorsell and other even more influential gays like Herbert Muschamp that have power to sway the highest echelons of the world of architecture. It makes me wonder; are gays more prone to deluding themselves and those they have influence over than us reglar folk? I ask that knowing full well how susceptible most everyone is to self delusion. Again, just look south for evidence...

Anonymous said...

Libeskind is such a hypocrite and a fool. Did you know he used another architect to design his own home? I guess he wanted to make sure it didn't leak like the ROM. Libeskind is not an architect. He's a complete turd with thick glasses.