Monday, June 04, 2007

Crystal Meth - The ROM's New Expansion Unveiling of The Michael Lee-Chin Crystal

So I went to check out the ROM's (Royal Ontario Museum) Preview opening of the new Michael Lee-Chin Crystal entrance by architect Daniel Libeskind (most famous for his Jewish Museum in Berlin and for winning the World Trade Center rebuild in New York City). I think Libeskinds jagged style worked for the Jewish Museum but I'm not sure how well it will work at the WTC in NY. I find his stuff tends to work better wowing people in model forms (when he can create entire buildings out of a glowing piece of plexi) than in real life where the formalities of intricate real details and making it work with real life issues (snow, rain, gravity etc) damper his initial visions (thus, was it a great vision to begin with then? If it's impossible to execute as planned? Isn't good architecture being able to actually build even the crazy well?).

As for Toronto, I'm excited that we are finally getting some bold new architecture (Will Alsop's OCAD, Donnely Centre at UofT by Behnisch Architects, Fosters new Pharmacy Buidling at UofT etc), in a great city with mostly boring architecture, but while I'm open to the concept of Libeskind's starchitecture that is all wild and crazy, I'm not sure if they executed the actual building to its' fully realised potential.

The new ROM's Crystal opening moves the main entrance from University Avenue to Bloor Street, and literally places a modern sculpture against the existing traditional building. I actually like when old buildings get new additions to them and I enjoy the juxtapositions it creates, even though I know it's still very controversial for many to accept. Sadly, this is not what disappointed me.

The interiors with wild shapes were dampened by the pedestrian white drywall covering what was an exciting matrix of steel beams. Cheap metal grates that clang as visitors walk over the hanging walkways disturb the sense of museum flow. The massive walls overlooking Bloor St. were now 25 % glass instead of the whole thing being a glowing crystal and much of the glory is lost in the cutting back (due to budgets and snowloads and rain protection). The new lobby is still flattened by its low ceilings and only in the space between the original ROM building and the addition, do we get a sense of the playfullness at work. Level 4 and 5 where the restaurant will sit overlooking another gallery, at the top peak of the crystal is probably where Libeskinds shapes come into play most effectively but the prosaic materials used to define the irregular shaped galleries softens the emotional impact a visitor should feel (unlike Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao which gave me an awing sense of wonder from the get go). From the outside you get a sense of possible wonder but the excitement is all but dissolved in the palid construction from within, and for not taking full advantage of this creative struggle between the new building and the old. Almost Canadian like, it attempts to be bold, then apologizes for trying and tries to soften the changes ending up with a dull gray feeling in the overall building.

Sadly I didn't think we were allowed to bring our camera's in so I didn't, only to find drunken party revellers at 3 am jamming the place with everyone snapping pictures at every point (most photos here are from the ROM website except the one directly above). Shoot. (or not). The event was hilarious and kudos for the ROM for having the unveiling after midnight on a Saturday. I think that that was the most young people in the museum at once, where basically the museum became the continuing after party for everyone spilling out of the clubs on Sunday morning and made for an interesting museum experience.

Lisa Rochon has a good (but damning) review at the Globe and Mail.

I also wanted to add that while Daniel Libeskind is not my favorite architect, I do give him a lot of credit for turning down the hundreds of project offers he received from China, all because of his disapproval for the political and ethical reasons that I usually keep ranting about too. For that alone (and the fact that in person, it's like talking to a less creepy version of a still funny Woody Allen), I give Libeskind a lot of respect.

1 comment:

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