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.