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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Starchitect Landing

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Editor’s note: The AGO invited a handful of people and organizations from Toronto’s blogging community to be part of the media launch of Frank Gehry’s exhibit. To see photos of the event go to: Flickr group photo pool, Sam Javanrouh’s daily post and Flickr set, and Rannie Turingan’s daily post and Flickr set.

Frank Gehry was at the AGO today for the launch of Frank Gehry: Art + Architecture exhibit that opens later this week. He said some nice things about Toronto, some others made some speeches, then we were free to wander around the exhibit before it officially opened. It’s sort of like walking through one of those expensive fat Phaidon or Taschen art and architecture books that are fun to page through at Pages. The best part is all the models that are there. The AGO model is there too, letting us see how it meets Dundas, and what a walk down the street will feel like when the project is complete (looks fine so far, not sure what all the fuss was about). There are models from other Gehry projects too. They’re as big as Volkswagens, and you can even get inside the Walt Disney Concert Hall, complete with a model person in each seat. Eli Singer shot little videos of the models that you can watch.

planI’ve never been to a Gehry building, and the context he was introduced to me over the years (until Bilbao made him popularly celebrated in houses that don’t have any Phaidon or Taschen’s on the coffetable ) was always critical. In books like Mike Davis’ City of Quartz, where he called Gehry’s work “fortress architecture,” more concerned with the aerial view than a pedestrian one and “a mercenary celebration of bourgeois-decadent minimalism.” As far as I can tell those are fighting words, without any room for talking or debate. Even a couple weeks ago at a talk I went to given by the good people from Projects for Public Space I was stunned by the major hate-on they had for places like Bilbao, and the “dead spaces” they create. You’d think Gehry buried people alive under his buildings.

So I feel sort of bad and ashamed about sort of liking the spaces these buildings create. I love the Annex, and walking along Bloor, for all the Jane Jacobs reasons — but then Nathan Phillips Square is still my favorite place in Toronto, even if it’s one person’s “totalitarian” vision of space and place (so the naysayers seem to say about these kinds of places). But where else would we have given Terry Fox the key to the city after he heroically ran-limped down University Avenue? For my own comfort, I’ve erased Art Eggleton’s unfortunate presence from the greatest moment in Canadian history, but NPS is the only place I’d want that event to have happened. It’s the finest manifestation of Peace, Order and Good Government in the country, and I feel safe and at home there, like my living room — even if it was one person’s vision.

All this is to say that the spaces that Gehry creates, at least from the model view, look like places I’d want to wander around in. The forest below was attached to that Disney Concert Hall. Looks alright, and when I return to Los Angeles one day I’ll go see if it’s as warm and cute as this model, which can be visited until May 7th.