The Royal Ontario Museum “crystal”

Rom_crystal I’m in Toronto for a couple of days.  From my hotel room I can see "the crystal" designed for the Royal Ontario Museum by Daniel Libeskind. The Crystal is pictured here, eyes right.  (Thanks to Kevin Marshall and his blog for the image.) 

My first reaction was terror.  And I was in good company.  Most people couldn’t wait to heap scorn upon Libeskind’s work.  Condemnation is a Canadian enthusiasm, a form of national bonding.  And the Royal Ontario is a favorite target.  High profile, American architect, risky, rule-breaking design, the Museum, Toronto, the combination was really too good to be true.  People feasted on outrage. 

But now that I see the thing nearing completion, I like it more and more.  Almost every corporation is inclined to act like a citadel, closed in upon itself, suspicious of strangers, armored against the infidel.  Corporate cultures might as well be ethnographic ones.  They identify others, vilify enemies, and keep the world out.

And all of them are now obliged, on pain of their own obsolescence, to break the walls down and let the world in.  Every corporation nows aims for porous boundaries.  Every corporation, profit or not-for-profit, wants contemporary culture to run through it, now around it.  (That’s indeed much of the gist of my consulting on this visit.)

Something like Libeskind’s architecture is happening (usually somewhat more metaphorically) to every organization we know.  Walls are being penetrated, boundaries buckled, parts of the organization made to lean precariously way out into the world.

Libeskind’s design makes a stirring point about what will happen to institutions if they wish to survive  And he has captured some of the violence and ugliness that must  inevitably ensues.  We might not like this work as architecture.  But it serves pretty well as truth in packaging. 

References

Kevin Marshall’s blog is here

13 thoughts on “The Royal Ontario Museum “crystal””

  1. The ugliness that ensues when the corporate citadel is pierced by Libeskind’s shards is just beginning. As the whole notion of being an “employee” gets called into question, those on the inside are likely to become more resentful of those on the outside as the distinctions between those two conditions become more stark. Wise corporations (?) will respond by making employment feel more like (the rest of) real life instead of resembling something out of Dickens.

    As always, thought provoking.

  2. Weren’t there similiar cries of outrage about IM Pei’s pyramid at the Louvre, various Gehry buildings, and pretty much anything that brought a modern, bold aesthetic to the traditional and embedded? If nothing else, people under 50 will now notice the ROM…before it likely blended into the background. Is that a really big bank? Or part of the University? or??

    The Liebskind structure works as a beacon for the ROM. His recent re-do of the Denver Art Museum (his first project in the US) is creating significant buzz; again, helping to communicate to the public that museums represent things other than matronly docents and endless objects in cases.

    Welcome back to Canada (bienvenue!) and just in time..for Nuit Blance in Toronto. Hopefully you’ll pull an all-nighter for it.
    http://scotiabanknuitblanche.com/home.html

  3. I went through much the same process Grant about the esthetics of the building. It truly has grown on me. However, that being said, if functionality matters at all (and for truly great architecture I believe that it does), the building truly sucks as a space to present museum content.

    I can’t help but think that this effort is possibly the opposite of as you say of a corporation ” want[ing] contemporary culture to run through it, now around it”. In fact, the choice seems to me at its very core to be more of a corporate marketing decision versus cultural.

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  5. I guess I fail to see how this building is particularly “porous.” Yes it has windows. Many buildings have windows. This one also has what looks like a fence around it to keep people from getting too close.

    May I suggest that you may be coming to the building with words you’d like to use? As opposed to seeing what is actually there?

  6. David,

    Thanks for your comment.

    The building is porous in two ways. First, it refuses the single plane approach. This is a little like the effect of a coast line when this serves as a nation’s boundary. The nation is here but not here. Oh, it’s here again. This is perhaps not literally porous, but metaphorically, it keeps rewriting its boundary…which for my money is the next best thing, and the one of the few options built form has its disposal when this is the design problem at hand.

    Oh, if only you knew something about the building in question here. The ROM is like several buildings in Toronto (esp. the library at the University of Toronto, “Fortbook” as it is not very fondly called). It appears armored against the possibility of approach. Shifting the boundary does a very nice job of effacing this fortified feeling that was the Museum’s original effect.

    Second, the windows are staggered and oddly placed so that we can now see into museums where normally we cannot and we can see things that are normally concealed. This too surrenders the Museum’s ability to direct attention and conceal contents. And this is quite a lot for any museum to volunteer. For a museum like the ROM that for many years presumed to know best what people should look at, this is a major concession and evidence of growth.

    Forgive me, but I wonder if you came to the post with criticisms you wanted to use, as opposed to reading what was actually there.

    Thanks, Grant

  7. I haven’t seen the ROM in person so my comments are not so much about the museum as about your own comments. The building may indeed be wonderful. I was only reacting to what felt like forced analogies such as “Something like Libeskind’s architecture is happening (usually somewhat more metaphorically) to every organization we know. Walls are being penetrated, boundaries buckled, parts of the organization made to lean precariously way out into the world.” As I said, it seemed to me to be forced and wishful thinking as I don’t see large organizations “opening up” except in more vivid rhetoric not do I see the starchitecture of people like Libeskind being very relevant to our ordinary lives.

    More broadly, I am puzzled that so many people believe that an odd, asymmetrical, confusing building suggests social progress and/or offers a trenchant comment on society etc etc. To me such buildings as Koolhaas Seattle Library and Gehry’s Disney Hall (which I have visited or I wouldn’t mention them) are regressive, egotistical and isolating structures This is too big a topic for a blog comment but I hope you will reconsider this building in terms of the kind of streetscapes which you (I would bet) actually enjoy strolling because of the human contact and scale they offer.

    Btw, your Point #2 on the importance permeability was nicely and simply put though I fail to see how it applies to this building any more (and maybe less) than to any traditional streetfront. And as this structure costs so much more per square foot than a traditional building, the extra cost must (on ecological terms) be justified by some additional and higher performance.

  8. You fail to appreciate that meaningful architecture is a product of evolution and not of improvisation. This building is a monument to the architect’s enormous ego and a total failure in its absence of functionality. What also worries me about this abortion of an addition is the horrendous cost of its demolition in the not too distant future.

  9. Libeskind remains the world’s ultimate middle-brow architect. In lieu of sophisticated design, he throws up cheap novelty as though it were good design. It is easier to gain notoriety just by being different. It is much harder to attain sophistication through a steady process of evolution and progressive refinement. (If Libeskind were a chef, he’d be serving up shit and calling it “challenging” cuisine.)

  10. Libeskind remains the world’s ultimate middle-brow architect. In lieu of sophisticated design, he throws up cheap novelty as though it were good design. It is easier to gain notoriety just by being different. It is much harder to attain sophistication through a steady process of evolution and progressive refinement. (If Libeskind were a chef, he’d be serving up shit and calling it “challenging” cuisine.)

  11. My father was David H. Scott – the man who is responsible for the ROM surviving as a vital entity. He would weep at the sight and idea of this visual atrocity. Read Museum Makers: The Story of the Royal Ontario Museum.

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