Rybczynski pronounces the ROM crystal a qualified failure:
Daniel Libeskind is another architect who, following his universally acclaimed Jewish Museum in Berlin, was considered to have the Midas touch when it came to signature buildings. Yet his recent crystalline addition to the Denver Art Museum has failed to attract the expected number of visitors, and another crystalline -- and slightly scary-looking -- extension to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto has not exactly set the architectural world on fire. None of this bodes well for cities that are counting on instant icons to save them in a looming recession.
However, he has much praise for Toronto's Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts by architect Jack Diamond - a building I love.
Another example of a building that responds to its setting is Toronto's new opera house, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, designed by Diamond & Schmitt Architects. The traditional horseshoe-shaped auditorium is situated within an unprepossessing blue-black brick box whose chief feature is a glazed lobby facing one of the city's main streets, University Avenue; dramatic, but hardly iconic. "It's easy to do an iconic building," says Jack Diamond, "because it's only solving one issue." The Four Seasons Centre addresses several issues: On the exterior, the building responds to a busy downtown site with transparency and openness; on the interior, it creates a multi-use lobby that includes an informal performance space and a remarkable all-glass stair; and in the 2,000-seat hall, it provides intimacy, excellent sight lines and exemplary acoustics. At $150 million, the cost of the Four Seasons Centre is relatively modest as opera houses go, but more important is how the money was spent -- on the hall and the interiors rather than on exterior architectural effects. There is something very Canadian about this hard-headed reticence.
Buildings such as the ... Toronto opera house seek to fit in rather than stand out, and to enhance rather than overwhelm their surroundings. While hardly shy, they don't stand there shouting, "Look at me!" Being in it for the long haul, they approach fashion gingerly, leaning to the conservative and well-tried rather than the experimental. They are handsome, beautiful even, but they don't strive to knock your socks off. Anti-icons, you might call them. Or just good architecture.
My prediction: In fifty years, the ROM crystal will be seen as an embarassing mistake and millions of dollars will be spent tearing it down & restoring the ROM to some semblance of a proper working museum. Meanwhile, the Four Seasons Centre will be studied by architecture students trying to replicate its success.