Sunday, February 08, 2009

Crystal, Arrogance, and Beauty

Last week I had the pleasure of reuniting with a dear friend after 3 years of absence. He is an architect, engineer, artist, and a brilliant mind. We had wonderful conversations. One of the things he wanted to do before leaving again was visiting the ROM and inspecting the new Crystal building designed by Daniel Libeskind.

Strangely enough, I hadn't had the opportunity to visit it myself. Just a week ago my friend MJ Braide wrote on Twitter: "Spent afternoon doing my best to like the ROM. I failed. Building is troubling and presentation totally old-school. How did this happen?". This made me curious and so after a good brunch on Sunday morning, off we went to the ROM.

We parked the car west of the ROM and walked towards it to take in the view of the new building. We inspected some of the external features then went in. To make a long story short, the four of us tried to appreciate the building's architecture...but we failed.
The building is not only troubling as MJ wrote; it is depressing. Space without purpose or harmony, shapes striving to be weird, corners whose design looks like the failed project of a first year student, vicious encrochments on the older ROM building, bad finishing of many details, and already serious signs of deterioration on several parts of the building.

My ultimate feeling after the visit was anger. Anger at the
amazing eliticist arrogance that this design expresses; anger amplified by the boundless disrespect it displays for the space and buildings surrounding it and the communities living in them. Also anger that something like this went through unchecked because someone sold the city on the need for a tourists trap, a "signature" curiosity to attract visitors, and the design decision was left in the hands of the same elite, self-absorbed with its own exclusivity and fame. What a waste!

We left, crossed Avenue Road, and looking for a place to recuperate we ended up in the restaurant of the Gardiner Museum just facing the ROM. It was redesigned in 2006 by Kuwabara, Payne, McKenna, Holmberg and the design has won the International Award of the Royal Institut of British Architects (RIBA) in 2008. The Kuwabara lines, familiar from other designs, like the Noor Centre on Wynford Drive or his Richmond Hill ex-residence, were clean, elegant, and sophisticated in an understated manner.
It was like a breath of fresh air, soothing all the troubled feelings induced by the Libeskind design. The building as a whole respected its surroundings and engaged them in a harmonious conversation. What a contrast to the ROM Crystal!

On the way home I thought of the Crystal design as the mother of all failwhales and decided to blog about it. Cheers!

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