Sixty Joyless De-Britished Uncrowned Commonpoor Years (1949-2009)

Elizabeth II Vice-Regal Saint: Remembering Paul Comtois (1895–1966), Lt.-Governor of Québec
Britannic Inheritance: Britain's proud legacy. What legacy will America leave?
English Debate: Daniel Hannan revels in making mince meat of Gordon Brown
Crazy Canucks: British MP banned from Canada on national security grounds
Happy St. Patrick's: Will Ireland ever return to the Commonwealth?
Voyage Through the Commonwealth: World cruise around the faded bits of pink.
No Queen for the Green: The Green Party of Canada votes to dispense with monarchy.
"Sir Edward Kennedy": The Queen has awarded the senator an honorary Knighthood.
President Obama: Hates Britain, but is keen to meet the Queen?
The Princess Royal: Princess Anne "outstanding" in Australia.
H.M.S. Victory: In 1744, 1000 sailors went down with a cargo of gold.
Queen's Commonwealth: Britain is letting the Commonwealth die.
Justice Kirby: His support for monarchy almost lost him appointment to High Court
Royal Military Academy: Sandhurst abolishes the Apostles' Creed.
Air Marshal Alec Maisner, R.I.P. Half Polish, half German and 100% British.
Cherie Blair: Not a vain, self regarding, shallow thinking viper after all.
Harry Potter: Celebrated rich kid thinks the Royals should not be celebrated
The Royal Jelly: A new king has been coronated, and his subjects are in a merry mood
Victoria Cross: Australian TROOPER MARK DONALDSON awarded the VC
Godless Buses: Royal Navy veteran, Ron Heather, refuses to drive his bus
Labour's Class War: To expunge those with the slightest pretensions to gentility
100 Top English Novels of All Time: The Essential Fictional Library
BIG BEN: Celebrating 150 Years of the Clock Tower

Sunday, 16 September 2007

The Royal Ontario Museum

Calling world architecture critic, Andrew Cusack. I would be interested in what he thinks of the $250 million redevelopment of Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum, the centrepiece of which is the recently-opened crystal facade, designed by rock star architect Daniel Libeskind. It is certainly a bold juxtaposition of contrasting architectural styles, but is it a successful merger of the old and the new, I wonder? Or is it rather the work of a show-off, an overly provocative and viscious example of the horridly ultra-modern? Is this breathtaking architecture, or is this a weapon from space that has just crashed onto one of the city's heritage buildings?

Northwest corner of the original Neo-Romanesque building, 1914.

Same northwest corner, now with jutting 2007 crystal.

Crystal's tentacles reach around the west side of the original 1914 edifice.

Now northeast corner visual of the protruding crystal, this time from the Gothic portion of the museum expanded in 1933.

An example of Gothic revival on the east side of the 1933-expanded ROM.


Scott said...

I think it's obviously a monster. Those photos are pretty upsetting, the architectural equivalents of Abu Graib snapshots, if you ask me - a catalogue of abuse and callousness.

Such buildings represent the complete abandonment of modesty, beauty, and hard-earned achievement. All that - all the wisdom of the past, and the skill of adapting or innovating it afresh, of producing beauty from the subtle and multiple struggles of the mind and pencil and soul, evanescences of grandeur, lit by tradition, lit by the comfortable forms of nature! All that exchanged for simple, child-like, one-step, one-stop, gesture-architecture - ugly and extraordinary buildings that nobody would ever have wished to build were it not for that simple fact that it happens now to be physically possible to do so.

The way it grasps and crouches like an out of control beast is very appropriate.

I'd say the building is ALMOST perfect - missing only several hundred tuns of dynamite for it to be really complete. And a match somewhere, too.

Anonymous said...

The sad thing is, this isn't even the ugliest public building in Toronto. Search for images of the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD), if you dare.

Greg Benton said...

This is the sort of thing to which the Prince of Wales referred concerning the esthetics of modern architecture.

There seems to be an apparently unwritten rule in the 'world o' arts' that the more that the lines, the sight, the sound, the bits and pieces in-between stray from the 'continuum', the more the in-house overseers, in lock-step, are moved to a kind of bizarre pseudo-intellectual ecstasy.

If this new ROM was a piece of 'musique' played at the concert hall, it would be like one of those 'new' symphonies, written by some 'mathematical genius' from some faculty of music somehwere, and 'introduced' before the playing of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony.
'Eeek, scratch, plonk, bong, crash, bang' right to the welcome end that cannot come too soon.

Only one of these architectural 'geniuses' could make a suburban strip mall seem almost 'classical'.


Matt Bondy said...

I just threw up in my mouth a little.

Anonymous said...

It's absolutely atrocious.

People must love it.

People are atrocious.


Beaverbrook said...

That's what I thought. It's actually quite scary and uninviting, isn't it; like a beastly alien that has latched onto its hapless prey. Total abandonment of modesty might be an understatement, as it selfishly dominates the entire structure as if to signal that the rest is unworthy of its presence.

I'm not saying there is no room for being breathtakingly bold nor a market for modern architecture, such as the Sidney Opera House. But this goes way beyond the expressionist boundaries, unless of course cold blooded jagged murder to the continuum and old surroundings is an acceptable form of artistic expression.

Anonymous said...

No good asking me - I think I'm the only person alive who hates both (a) the new concourse in the British Museum and the way they've left the old Reading Room stranded like an anemone left ashore by the retreating tide, and (b) that idiot pyramid thing at the Louvre. These are two things which even people who can't stand modern architecture claim to like ("Come on, old boy, it's not all bad; what about the new concourse at the BM, hey?"), and I am proud to say that they are both rubbish.


Scott said...

Someone committed suicide off the top of the old Reading Room stairs in the BM when I was there last. I have no idea if it was architecture that moved them to it, though.

(Sorry if that's bad taste).

Daniel, Fashionising said...

Good Lord, what kind of ineptitude does one have to display in order to design that abortion? Further, what level of retardation does one have to suffer from in order to approve the abortion?

That is simply an atrocious wart on the face of a lovely old lady.

David Byers said...

These things might have their place but why on earth build them over the top of existing historic buildings?!?!

PS. Beaverbrook you once sent me a link so that I could sign up as a contributor to your new look website. Sorry I never got around to it. Could you please email it again to:
then remove this PS to my post.

Kipling said...

As someone who has had the grave misfortune of watching that monstrosity rise up and nearly consume one of my favourite places in my home town, I could not agree more with the previous commenters.

It's not about modesty and selfishness, it's about basic harmony and integration. It's the debris of an airplane crash no one has had the time to remove. As many here I'm reminded of the Prince of Wales famous use of the term "carbuncle" in describing a modernistic addition to a great English heritage building. The word seems hopelessly inadequate. An actual carbuncle is an organic thing, growing out of something living. That uncleared wreckage is anti-organic. Yes dear Beaverbrook, you are quite right, this is revolting. The ROM is a favourite hand out for me but I haven't been there since they started defacing it.

Like modern art most of modern architecture is based on pretense. It takes a power of self-delusion unequalled until he advent of modern man to argue that Jackson Pollock is art. Same goes with this thing. Emperor's new clothes.

James said...

Well, architecture is an art, and like any art, good architecture should incite debate and analysis. On that point, Liebskind's ROM addition is very successful.

We also have to remember that architecture should speak of its time; in a way it preserves a message for future generations, warts and all. To me, Liebskind's work does represent a chaotic world where traditional structures - of all kinds - are being pushed and pulled by new and foreign forces. Hence, I find the juxtaposition of the old ROM buildings against the new "crystal" quite fascinating.

I can't say I love the new ROM addition; there are aspects of it that I think are poorly resolved, and others that are downright inexplicable. But, I also like it's forceful presence; people certainly can't avoid looking at it, and thus giving it some thought. It's a good step away from the concrete tombstones that line University Ave., and all the banal buildings like them.

Scott said...

Architecture is an art, but all art is different - and architecture has as much in common with curtain-making as sculpture or painting. The architect is a tailor, not merely a maverick. He is making something essentially domestic, utile, to order, that must have style, but style in the service of a building's use. Quite how a museum - a repository and altar of the past - is serviced by an extraordinary, drunken accident of a building, so uber-modern it's faintly self-parodic (which is again postmodern, of course, phew) is unclear to me.

The architect has his parameters, and as we consider someone who designs a suit with five trouser legs a fathead, so too must we draw similar conclusions about Liebskind et al.

And if architecture must speak of its times, it would be well to do so - surely - without any of its times' vulgarisms and barbarities. Or it is liable to being silenced by its descendants for impropriety. One doesn't swear in front of the children.

Splendor Sine Occasu said...

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is that?

Cato, author of said...

This shows appalling contempt by the modern architect for the ideas and values which the architects of previous generations were trying to convey in their respective portions of this building. One only hopes that a future architect will show equal contempt for the creator of the latest additions to the building - perhaps by reducing them to a mangled, molten lump at street level.

James said...

Scott- are you forgetting that in decades and centuries past it was considered haute couture to have one's tailor sew on all sorts of frills, sequins, feathers, bows, lace, buttons, and excess fabric to one's clothes? That's the nature of fashion - it goes beyond the merely functional to portray a message about the wearer as well as, from a future perspective, something about the culture in which it was devised.

Architecture is the same in this aspect, though more complex, and today's post-post-modern zeitgeist dictates that, for buildings, the form of the structure and space itself is the "decoration": what speaks to the user and conveys a message. This is the result of an evolution away from the decorated shed that began some ninety years ago.

But this is just a repeated cycle wherein each generation reacts against the values of the one before. 500 years ago austere Renaissance classicism slowly gave way to more and more superfluous decoration until, 200 years on, we arrived at the Rococo, which almost mocked the classicists with it's twisted columns, wedding cake plaster work, gold leaf, dramatic lighting, and a veritable orgy of statuary. Considered as gauche by its contemporaries as many today see the ROM, we wouldn't dare now tear down a Càdiz Cathedral or Catherine Palace because of its value in telling us about that period in our own past.

Is it arrogant and hubristic? In a sense, yes. But then most monuments are, and the Rococo works I mentioned above were just as self-centered. One difference is, however, that Liebskind is actually much more sensitive to the pre-existing Renaissance- and Gothic/Byzantine-revival structures than any architect and his client of the actual Renaissance, Gothic or Byzantine, indeed, even the Victorian or Edwardian, periods would have been to buildings that existed on the site of the project they were commissioned to do. Whereas they would have tried to demolish or cover up as much of the older structures - which they would have seen as clashing with the ideals of their then modern architecture - at least today heritage buildings hold more value to us.

For all the ranting and raving today over the ROM, I think we will, in time, discover its worth.

James said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
James said...

Oops. Someone may want to delete one of my double posts above. Sorry.

Aeneas the Younger said...

I wish the PoW would weigh-in on this publicly ...

Scott said...

What you say has a lot of wisdom in it, but I think modern/postmodern/etcmodern architecture is so extremely ugly and incompetent that it will not be tolerated by future generations. Nothing ages quite so badly as concrete and glass, anyway, regardless of styles. And nothing ages so rapidly as fashion in the busy, interconnected world of today.

Indeed, a large number of award-winning modernist buildings and styles are rapidly being demolished up and down our country (the Tricorn centre, for example, or the post-war suburban house). I think Liebskind - along with artists like Jackson Pollack and Picasso - will not survive the common sense of Time. It is a luxury, an indulgence to find them anything but repulsive. There is no intrinsic worth for future generations to comprehend.

redtown said...

Looks like London after the Blitz.

The second and fourth photos down are perfect metaphors for the Collapse of Western Civilisation.

Dundonald said...

Why must we suffer these self-indulgent architects, whose version of originality pollutes our cities with monotonous uniformity? The old and the new can coexist, and can often work well together, but when one display such obvious contempt for the other, it diminishes both.

Jeff S. said...

Surely, this is some sort of computer generated joke?

Jeff S.

James said...

Well, Scott, I understand your distaste for the building, but it still reminds me of the reaction to Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim in Manhattan, when it was finished in 1959: it was panned by architects and critics alike. But, then, FLW himself derided Toronto's own city hall by Viljo Revell, calling it the gravestone that marked the death of architecture. I suppose my point is that many buildings we today find valuable caused a significant stink when they were first completed. I honestly don't see this ROM addition as being any different.

Jeff S. said...

The Guggenhiem still needs to be panned.

Anonymous said...

"like any art, good architecture should incite debate and analysis"


And does reflexive heaving and wretching count as debate and analysis?


sharday mosurinjohn said...

I am an editor compiling a journal which includes an essay about the ROM crystal addition, with which we would like to include an image. Searching for high resolution images, I came across the photo of the ROM you posted and I was wondering if you would be willing to grant us permission to reprint your photograph?

sharday mosurinjohn said...

I am an editor compiling a journal which includes an essay about the ROM crystal addition, with which we would like to include an image. Searching for high resolution images, I came across the photo of the ROM you posted and I was wondering if you would be willing to grant us permission to reprint your photograph?