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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Toronto’s new-old is the new beautiful

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My psychogeography column in the current edition of Eye Weekly looks at how Toronto’s combination of new and old buildings in close proximity to each other may very well be the distinctive “Toronto look” — but sometimes that runs up against the constrained image of Toronto we have in our heads making it hard to appreciate and, more critically, puts our modern heritage at risk right now just as 19th Century buildings were lost when modernism was in full swing. Fashion, as I argue in the piece, is cruel and fickle — and if a particular kind of heritage is out of fashion for a moment, it could disappear.

I also argue that our constantly changing city makes this place considerably more interesting to live in than a city like Paris where it’s very hard to do anything “new” (either architecturally or culturally) because their civic narrative and look is set and near-impossible to find the space or cultural wiggle-room needed for innovation. Toronto seems to be able to preserve the old and make room for the new at the same time.

A sample below, but read the rest here on the Eye Weekly site:

Toronto is not a period piece, like some pristine European cities are, and we are fortunate for that. Toronto is always changing (an urban workshop more than a museum) and always has been. New things are being added all the time, making this an exciting place to live, unlike, say, the morgue of a city that Paris has become. When was the last time you heard about an interesting building or contemporary art scene that’s come out of Paris? Our lack of cohesive architectural look — what snobs might refer to as “ugly” — means this city is tabula rasa, a blank slate waiting for us to do stuff in it without too much historical burden to smother the new, allowing cultural ferment of all kinds to happen.

While the Royal Ontario Museum crystal may have various faults that can and will be argued about, the oft-heard opinion that it ruins the classical design of the original building is deserving of a challenge. If any building in this city audaciously embodies what Toronto truly is, it’s the ROM. The same new-old combination has worked next door at the Royal Conservatory of Music and across town at the National Ballet School on Jarvis and at many other locations.

Yet when new and old come together in less high-profile locations, it’s not an easy concept for Torontonians to reconcile. The internalized image of this city — at least for a large chunk of the politically active downtownish crowd — is of a low-rise, pre—World War One city. That causes problems, because much of Toronto is distinctly not that. Our notorious fear of skyscraper height seems like an invented untruth as the view from a plane’s window flying in reveals a forest of high-rises spreading to all civic borders, the most in North America after New York City.

Photo by portfolium.



  1. The Louvre Pyramid was completed in 1989. It is a large glass and metal pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre Museum (Musée du Louvre) in Paris, France. The large pyramid serves as the main entrance to the museum. The movie “The Da Vinci Code” reflected the same arguments that some say about the Royal Ontario Museum’s crystal, some don’t like it.

  2. The arguments about the Crystal ruining the older building is moot in my mind as the crystal only replaced a wing of the museum that was built in the 1970s (that everyone seems to have quickly forgotten about). Moreover, you can’t even see the Crystal from University Avenue. Liebeskind basically let the original building keep its facade that people (including myself) are so fond of. Turn that corner onto Bloor though and it’s another story, but a truly Toronto one.

  3. As Jason points out, there’s been an addition at that part of the ROM for a long time. I don’t think most people dispute the need for a modern addition in that part of the ROM (it did look pretty cool for the brief period when the old one was demolished and you could see the original buildings – but clearly the ROM needs more space and that’s the right place to put it). The dispute is more whether the crystal design was the right one, or whether something else would have been better (there were several other well-regarded submissions). So it’s more about *how* to integrate old and new. The Ballet School, for example, allows the older buildings to be more foregrounded, with a smoother transition between old and new. The ROM, on the other hand, goes for a dramatic contrast between old and new.

    In a way, Toronto is becoming a modern version of a city like Rome, where you can see that people have been adding to and integrating old buildings into new ones for 2000 years – I remember seeing buildings with at least 3 layers (e.g. classical, Renaissance, nineteenth century) visible in them when I was there a couple of years ago.

  4. A couple of years ago on Doors Open I visited the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (at the Distillery District) and MaRS on the same day. There are a lot of similarities in how old buildings were joined and extended to allow new uses. But the Young Centre reveals a much gentler, more capable touch: more of the old comes through, in greater harmony with the new parts. They’re both examples of the style you mention, MaRS is arguably a more dramatic example given its size, and neither is ugly, but the Young Centre is better architecture.

    I agree that the crystal belongs to the style of mixing old and new. And it is true that the older buildings at the ROM have never looked so good, thanks in part to the renovations and in part because they’re such a warm relief after walking through the cold, dehumanizing interior of the crystal.

    But I can’t agree that the crystal is the ideal embodiment of that style. Shouldn’t the ideal mix the greatest of the old with the greatest of the new? I believe the crystal is simply bad architecture, in spite of the expense and big names involved. It pales in comparison to something like the Great Court at the British Museum, where the new part excels on its own merits and is made even better by the link to the old.

  5. Hello, very interesting issue that is closely connected to the issue of identity.
    I also noticed that there is a strong desire to find “the look” or the “brand name” of Toronto (Toronto the Good, T.O. etc). I think the ‘branding” desire has the opposite effect. Finding a unique label for a city that should have many different layers of complexity is impoverishing. I know Paris and other cities have this kind of “brand name” but they didn’t look for it, they build first (for very long time) and the nickname-stereotype came by itself. And as any stereotype, it doesn’t express the real thing or it’s just false. Paris, “romantic”?
    Fashion its cruel because is superficial or subjective (“I like or I don’t like”) and accepts only one top trend at a time, while totally dismissing the rest, consensual thinking doesn’t allow complexity. And that’s the measure of the city, the complexity. As far as I know, unfortunately, in Toronto, demolishing heritage buildings is a common practice.
    A European city, at its best, is its complexity, the layers, the different styles, some more visible than others, maybe. That’s what gives “a cohesive look”, the different things, places, systems, superposed. Toronto has that. It’s so called “ugliness” comes from its air of “laissez faire” or lack of public-civic space or spirit. The public space defines Paris and there is constant architectural and artistic innovation despite the heavy “museum-city” mentality.
    I hope that Toronto will accept the ROM and future audacious projects, like them (AGO) or not, the same as Paris accepted the Louvre pyramid, Centre Pompidou, Fondation Cartier. I think Toronto’s big advantage is being Toronto and not trying to be Paris.

  6. I would disagree about Paris’s lack of both new/old architecture/infrastruture(*ie.Pompidou/La Defence cube/New Opera house/various public art instilations/metro+stations,ect) True, Toronto has more posibilities for future modern buildings, but it’s not done many interesting “modern” things in the last half century(*besides the ROM, AGO, OCAD) The “concrete movement” of the 60’s was a half decent idea to instil modernism but most of the buildings turned out ugly(*let’s be honest, we’re not Brasilia over here) and done too quickly and cheaply. I don’t mind variety in styles, as our country is a blend of cultures itself, but let’s give Paris some credit. When you travel to Paris, you know you’re in Paris. You can smell/taste it’s history there and it’s a very thriving artistic community. I can’t understand how you say it’s not.

  7. *And how does it not suprise me that Shawn puts up a picture of new City Hall in this post(*don’t worry Shawn, i’m not going to debate that here) Only his favourite building of all time!

    By the way, when are they going to modernize it thru that contest they had a while ago? You know, making it greener, having that upstairs walkway funtion more as a walkway and tearing down that skate rental building for a modern/glass two-storey restaurant? Just curious that’s all. The updgrades seem like a good idea.

  8. With regard to “our notorious fear of skyscraper height”, there is a strange paradox. Toronto is VERY tolerant of density — our houses are more tightly packed than in almost any other city, not so much a distinction in a downtown/row-house sense (everyone has those) but in a suburban sense. Toronto’s streetcar suburbs, first ring suburbs and even outer modern suburbs are far more tightly packed than comparable neighbourhoods in, say, American cities. This extends to a tolerance for high-rise buildings in almost every corner of the city, something you don’t see in Chicago or Boston. In terms of sheer number of high-rises, Toronto is a champ. Go check if you don’t believe me.

    But there is indeed a fear, or lack, of the very tall building, as Toronto is stuck on masses of 12-to-35 story stubs rather than the more elegant 50+ storey buildings you see in other big metros. This comes from the kind of weird thinking that says “sure, build a 40 storey building at Yonge and Eglinton but don’t dare try building something taller than that or Michael Walker will write an editorial in the National Post.” On a collective mass of skyline bulk, Toronto ranks far lower on the global scale due to this lack of very tall and supertall buildings.

    So we do have a city filled with towers, but yet have a fear of tall buildings. Maybe it’s for the best, or maybe we’re just cheap Canadians who couldn’t spring for the special crane and fancy elevators or high rent tenants. Go figure.

  9. You’re a hard-core Torontonian Shawn, i’ll give you that(*nothing wrong with that, honestly) I have “Concrete Toronto” checked out from the library now, which is why i brought Concrete up. I guess it simply comes down to taste. Most of Toronto’s interesting modern buildings, in my own opinion, are very “subtle” I find. They’re nothing to write home about. That’s why when people come to Toronto, they don’t comment on the Okeefe Centre’s modern charm, they talk about the CN tower. I’m not saying bigger is better, but “interesting” is better. La Defence in Paris is not it’s “main” attraction, the Eiffel tour is, but it’s still an “interesting” building(you’d have to agree. Square? come on) But all this talk may all be for not, as it just come down to taste.

  10. Sorry, I can’t stop myself to repeat that that’s a negative mentality. The fashionable “my style not my style”, the Top Ten’s, a new style defined by 10 buildings. Maybe if we would have 100, public debate and publications on it, we could try to put a label. As El-Khoury says, it’s a high end phenomenon. Quality architecture, yes, a style, definitely not.
    Anyway, a style it’s the opposite of the innovation, it’s copying the same. We call style a research that got to its end, which established an order and died. Stylish architecture is dead architecture, let’s not kill the architecture by labelling it with one word or idea right away.

  11. Parkdalian> It does come down to taste, sometimes, which can be a problem when taste can change with the fashion. As you say, though, Toronto’s charms are very much subtle (after one gets beyond the CN Tower type charm) and it is difficult to picture “subtle” in our minds eye. Picturing a Victorian streetscape is easy.

    La Defence is certainly interesting, but it’s ghettoized out towards the Périphérique, not really mixed into the city. I like Paris, quite enjoyed walking around there and will do so again I hope, but I wouldn’t want to live there. Artists I’ve talked to from there — and from other postcard-perfect cities like Edinburgh — spoke of the difficulty of getting anything new off the ground.

  12. Having just served as a juror on the OAA awards I can confidently say there is a new toronto modernist style that has developed over the last decade of real estate boom. I can’t put my finger on *what* it is but I could certainly see and feel it.

  13. Thanks for the article link Shawn. It speaks volumes to where Torontonians come from(*i’m originaly from argentina) Two words popped out at me, “rural” and “nostalgic”. The author even goes on to compare Montreal’s architectural thinking to Toronto’s. Montreal’s being more cosmopolitan/contemporary to Toronto’s rural/nostalgic. I think that’s key difference(for better or worse) Also, Toronto is modern but in a small scale(*the article’s picture is a modern “house”, not building) This may stem from the fact that the english-canadian side of canada(or maybe just Torontonians) may be a more quieter/shy personality compared to the french-canadian side(I may be wrong on this so please correct me) This may be why there’s this difference in architectural thinking. Just my own thoughts though. Comments welcomed.

    And just to make it clear that i’m “not” against nostalgicism(*I’m a huge fan of Toronto heritage sites) I just wished we’d think a little bigger(creatively, not size-wise) when it comes to new, public/private architecture in this city. We are a major world city btw.

  14. Cristian, you’re right. The word “style” is thrown around too loosely here, i apologize.

    A city’s architecture should reflect it’s people’s and industrial history, aswell as environmental resources. Intergrating new with old is great(and toronto’s doing well in that department), but when it comes to moderism, we could do a bit better. And i’m not speaking of residential architecture(that’s private land), but business/public space-wise.

  15. La Defence is part of the Paris historical axis [ ] that starts at La Cour Carree of Louvre. It is intended to pull the develpment of the city towards Nanterre and N-E in the next 50-100 years. The Ministry of transportation buildings symbolic is connected to that,a gate, a window, a landmark that define it`s suroundings while opening to the future urban development. It pulls money and urban investments in poorer areas of the city. That’s the reason of putting it there, in ghetto-like area ( even if I find the term extremely harsh).

  16. I agree with parkdalian. I travel to Paris yearly…why you say…why not! I am a proud Torontonian and wear my city on my heart. But, really Shawn and et al. above, it is so fabulous it is difficult to describe. And folks are utterly incorrect to suggest the lack of any recent Parisian “movement” architectually or socially. All cities are organic and change with time. Walk Paris and you will notice some very recent architectual beauties: Arabe du Monde (Museum of the Modern world along the Seine at Juneau station); Grande Arche; recent Terminal 2F, Hall F Air France at CDG;Bibliothà¨que nationale de France(one of the largest and most modern libraries in the world in Bercy), Palais des Congress (amazing how it integrates with an expressway…could we be ever bold enough with Gardiner in Toronto); EDF Tower (I.M. Pei 2001); Rue de Suisse Housing (Herzog & de Meuron 2000); Notre Dame de Pentecote Chruch (Atelier 2000)…the list goes on. I would love to have any of these buildings in the city of Toronto. And the buildings are bold and refreshing. I love the ROM, because I see it differently everytime I see it…different lights, different angles, weather patterns, time of day, etc… You see, that is why Paris is so amazing. It conjures up the feeling of the ROM to me on all its streets and architecture (both recent, modern or classical smashing and living with each other). Toronto at times has beauty (hardly sheer), but it is so fleeting and hardly poignant or piercing. It is a canvas that is not perhaps undone, but started by amateurs, diffident and unscrupulous developers( who seek to pad the pocket rather than leave a legacy) that in a short period of time have made somewhat of a mess, pockets of disaster bordering areas of beauty (but hardly memorable). Many parts of recent 50s-60s Toronto are starting again and thank god for that. Toronto is growing up…that is the refreshing part. The country damns it and as parts of it crumble and stay in disrepair, it hardens us (ie. 90s Harris)…now that is refreshing storyline and beginning to Toronto coming of age.

  17. Parkdalian, I have the feeling that the “anti-spectacle” neo-modernism, that dominates the Toronto recent architecture, is blocking any other direction of research and innovation. I guess that’s why the ROM generated so much reaction. Maybe this will push towards a change of architectural-urban “moeurs”.

  18. My fear for Toronto has nothing to do with the eras in which our surviving buildings were constructed. My concern is with our grasping need to have a “world-class” building. The Bilbao museum was revolutionary because it was new. The ROM is an obvious bad copy of Gehry’s building and just like a phoney knock-off iPod, even those to whom it appeals know that it ain’t the real thing.

    Two things grab the attention of potential visitors. The very old and the very strange. As we have little of the old left, we should encourage the strange and unique. Preservation of historic buildings and the addition of buildings like Alsop’s OCAD are the foundations of a good urban complexion.

  19. Josh, going by the way you ended your comment, I’d have imagined you “liking” the new addition to the ROM(*strange/unique)

    The Bilbao, i do believe, looks nothing like the crystal(*one’s sharp edged, one’s curved)

    Toronto doesn’t need “one” world class building, it needs several. The crystals at the ROM, AGO and especially Alsops OCAD, are a good start. But let’s not think of things as “world-class” anymore.. cause that may sound daunting. How about simply as unique and potentially interesting to visitors(*aswell as ourselves)

  20. Perhaps it’s my inherent mistrust of deconstructivists and the way it treats “form follows function”. As though work for someone or something is restriction, rather than a necessity. As an artist, I reject the idea that of the architect as a selfish creator, in the same way as a painter or author. Instead I see them as a collaborator with the people or objects which he/she seeks to enclose.

    The previous poster’s comment about how Norman Foster’s British Museum addition works so well with the existing building is truly the best critique of the ROM. Instead of serving as an addition, the crystal seeks to be it’s own entity. The manner in which it explodes out of the original structure is the ultimate repudiation of the old way in favour of the new. It’s arrogant, both aesthetically and philosophically.

  21. Josh writes: the ROM is “arrogant, both aesthetically and philosophically.”

    In Toronto, that’s not a bad thing. Mot of the country thinks of us that way, but most of who have lived here a long time know otherwise. I like it when we puff our chests out a bit.

    Peronsally, I like the ROM. I would argue the cladding material was a poor choice but I love its form and the explosion it creates out of the side of the building.

  22. Matthew writes: “Most of the country thinks of us that way, but most of who have lived here a long time know otherwise.”

    So, should we attempt to portray an image that’s in keeping with our reputation, rather than our reality? Is that like buying into one’s own hype? Rather, is it like choosing to sleep around just because the other kids started telling everyone you’re a slut?

    The ROM is Toronto’s breast implants; the needless cosmetic kind, not the reconstructive sort. It finds itself in a time when frivolous buildings, designed frivolously (on expensive napkins, no less) are at odds with our collective need to part with ornamentation and excess. And what, I challenge you, is more excessive than a building who’s form is specifically designed to NOT be entirely usable?

    The other 2 examples cited by Shawn (The National Ballet School and the RCM) are wonderful examples of old and new working collectively and I’d offer them as much better standards around which to rally than the puffery of the ROM which is, as Matthew said, not really what we’re all about.

  23. Parkdalian: maybe a handy way to address your blind spot re Toronto’s 60s modernism, etc, is to expand your civic tourist’s scope of what’s worth beholding–not just in Toronto, but *anywhere*. Paris not excluded (where I can find the hectic c20 zones around the Peripherique more dynamic and vital and electrifying than wherever the conventional tourists hang out).

    Sometimes, the seemingly banal, anonymous (yet story-filled in its own right) urban bridesmaid can be more psychically satisfying that the gorgeous yet empty-headed (or at least clapped-out through overuse) bride. And I feel that a lot of these people who decry Toronto’s post-WWII “ugliness” would also be grumbling about the post-WWII elements (new or rebuilt) in European cities as well–especially when they aren’t potboiler tourist attractions like the Mitterand projets in Paris, or Coventry Cathedral, or whatever.

  24. Josh – “And what, I challenge you, is more excessive than a building who’s form is specifically designed to NOT be entirely usable?”

    I was at the ROM recently for it’s Shelter “graffitti” show and i found they used their interior space fairly well. With such imposible angles, these walls were “forced” to be used in a creative way. And that’s ultimately good all around

    I’m not going to disect this building like Josh here though(*or start comparing it to childish sexual references) A building does not need to “work” on all levels to receive respect. Not everything is perfect in this world so lets just appreciate “different” things and move on. Or not, your choice.

  25. > Parkdalian re: City Hall/Nathan Philips Square “when are they going to modernize it?”:
    We’re working on it. It’s a very complex project.

  26. The main reason central Paris does not have skyscrapers (beside the fact that it’s already full of great buildings):

    “The City of Light is built atop a city of shadows. Paris is laid over a subterranean limestone quarry, its huge system of ancient tunnels weakening the ground. Its low-rise skyline is the product of geological circumstances.”

    Nevertheless, extraordinary tall buildings continue to be built there, where conditions permit:

    Toronto, meanwhile, has squandered some of its heritage during the recent condo bubble goldrush through facadism – pasting a veneer of an old, viable building onto another boring, glass tower. This was often done when a large parking lot exists adjacently, which could have been used for the new building, sparing the old, if anyone had bothered to do a land swap.

  27. I admit to being a fan of the occasionally “bigger than big” thing — they’re important. Like a stadium rock shows — important things.

    Though I’d argue big and bold is in fact part of Toronto’s tradition — but admitting to that isn’t. Think of the CN Tower (big!), Skydome (first in the world, big!), the Leslie Street Spit, the 401 across the top (competes with a freeway in LA as busiest in the world), Ontario Place, Eaton Centre, the extension of the Waterfront from Victorian days — these are all massive projects.

    Josh, I understand your thoughts on the cosmetic implantness of the crystal — it’s a valid take and useful metaphor — I just don’t see it that way. As Jason Paris says up top, from the front, the classical building is intact and hasn’t been messed around with, but the back has this other thing. An other thing — it’s like a new building back there, not an additions. When do additions become new buildings?

    Lisa Rochon has written a lot about the ROM. She hates it — when I was on TVO’s Agenda in the fall with her (and others) she said it would be torn down in 20 years (!) or so. She talked a lot of the poor “fit and finish” of the ROM, which is certainly a concern. I found myself nodding along with her a lot — all criticisms make sense, but then, I still like this giant thing. That is, I suppose, my taste — dig the subtle, but I want to hear rock and roll anthems now and then to feel like I’m alive.

    I’ve only been in three times (once was straight up to C5, the other for a reception in the main hall) so I can’t speak to the details very much. I do like how the old building looks from inside the crystal though. Almost as if it’s part of the exhibits.

  28. Parkdalian: I was using a very adult sexual reference, thank you very much! I am definitely against breast implants for children.

    But seriously folks,

    Why would an architect design such an audacious building if not to inspire a discourse about it? My focus on the ROM in the context of this discussion is because it is the the most prominent (perhaps only?) example of deconstructivism in Toronto. As I have become more and more interested in architecture, I find myself identifying (as do many of Toronto’s greatest buildings) with the Modernists. As such, I have concerns about the spread of Gehry style deconstructivism from a social standpoint as I believe it misplaces it’s focus from people to the architect, the structure and it’s materials.

    Perhaps, if that’s too much of a dissection for you, I’ll just say I don’t like it and we can all move on. But where’s the fun in that…and this kind of debate, to me, is a ton of fun.

  29. Shawn, you posted as I was writing my last and I wanted to comment on Lisa Rochon’s opinion of the ROM’s longevity.

    Although I think it’s unlikely that the ROM will be torn down in 20 years, I think it will last a great deal longer. However, because of it’s style, I think it’s very rapidly becoming dated. It’s excessive style is very much of the 90’s and early 2000’s. An excessive building from a time of great excess.

    However, it is that very datedness that perhaps assures the building’s legacy. The ROM could last a very long time, as a monument to a period in history when so many got to live like fat cats, at least for a while.

  30. Josh> Re Gehry — when I was “embedded” at the AGO, blogging during the Transformation opening, I was amazed (aaammmaaazzzeeeddd) at how much though went into the human experience of the building. So many details, actual full-sized gallery mock-ups to see how the light plays, how it feels inside. More than anything that new building is about the people, IMO.

  31. Shawn: I really do get that. As I get how people can associate with the organic form of some of these buildings (Gehry has made his career out of this)…yet, I cannot bring myself to love a structure when it seems to me that the shape was picked and then it took a team to make it livable. This may not have been the process, but my experience has me, let’s say, suspicious.

    The ROM is a work of art. I’ll say that unequivocally. But it doesn’t seem like good architecture. Of course…all of this is just my opinion…and when I’m working a more boring show (as I am today) I have more time than usual for opinions. 🙂

  32. Shawn: funny you should mention the mock-ups. In The Museum, a doc about the building of the ROM, there’s a revealing scene where a ROM staffer gives a walk-through of a lobby mock-up, explaining why short lines and a view into the museum are important to make the museum welcoming. Libeskind shows up, and the camera catches him musing to one of his aides about how the lobby should be like an exclusive nightclub, using line-ups and barriers to create “buzz”. It struck me that the immature, superficial approach to museum design had won out there.

    Comments in support of the ROM often discuss it as a sort of sculpture, but it’s not. (For one thing, $200 million is way more than anyone would spend for a sculpture.) It’s a world cultures and natural history museum, and unlike the new AGO it fails to fulfill its function in so many ways.

  33. *WOW! I never thought i’d be agreeing with infamous Boris on this one! Welcome back Boris(with all due respect of course)

    Josh: You said it yourself, why don’t we agree to disagree on this ROM issue.

    People outside the architectural field aren’t dissecting this crystal for it’s way it mis-uses space, they simply likes the way it looks. Nothing wrong with that is there? Many things in this world are beautiful but with its faults, the worlds not perfect. You seem to be caught up in the details(how does it not work for the people?) and copying trendy styles(which btw, its all around us in our society) to stop and appreciate a new style of building in “our” city(*not bilbao)

    Furthermore, most of us don’t have time to dissect “one” of our city’s buildings. This post was about the entire city’s new/old variety as a whole.

  34. “My focus on the ROM in the context of this discussion is because it is the the most prominent (perhaps only?) example of deconstructivism in Toronto.”

    Actually, when it comes to the “deconstructivism” label, back when it was built, the CBC Headquarters was being hailed as Philip Johnson doing for deconstructivism what he did for postmodernism at AT&T–for better or worse.

    And as for Lisa Rochon’s perhaps wishful claim that Libeskind’s ROM will be removed in 20 years: yeah, I know there’s a precedent (Barton Myers/KPMB’s AGO frontage being removed on behalf of Frank Gehry), but my feeling is that it’ll bluff its way into lasting a whole lot longer than that and presumably heritage status in its own right. The reason? In practice, most of those who *would* actively campaign for its removal are of an opposite architectural-taste disposition from Rochon, hardcore paleocon anti-modernists and the like. With enemies like that, who needs friends.

    Though I can, perhaps, see the 1931 Queens Park rotunda resucitated as an entrance.

  35. Josh-“Why would an architect design such an audacious building if not to inspire a discourse about it ?”
    By too much reaction to ROM, as wrote before, I meant reaction as in “reactionary”, sorry, obviously the debate, the non-consensual debate is essential to urban and architectural culture.
    Non-consensual within the limits of cultural decency. Lisa Rochon`s demolition dream is more in line, for me, with the developers current practice of demolishing heritage buildings to build “better and bigger”. Seeing architecture as disposable at pleasure, as object with limited usage is a very strong limitation for the city and it’s citizens. I guess it would be more constructive to be able to respect a building-architecture-idea even if the personal subjective pleasure (the total “I don’t like!”) is missing. As in “I don’t like the ROM architecture or detailing but I respect it’s audacity and consistence”.

  36. “Lisa Rochon`s demolition dream is more in line, for me, with the developers current practice of demolishing heritage buildings to build “better and bigger”. ”


    Not sure about that, because there’s more of an undercurrent of perceived aesthetic/functional failure that motivates her so-called demolition dream (something not present re most “heritage buildings”). That is, she anticipates that the ROM Crystal will be something so pathologically loathed that the consensus will be, “it’s got to go”–providing, of course, that the replacement is sufficiently world-class superior so as to excuse doing away with Libeskind. (Kind of like Gehry was a ready excuse to do away with Myers/KPMB at AGO–and the earlier AGO makeover wasn’t nearly as loathed in the end as what Rochon anticipates for the Crystal.)

    Maybe the parallels here might be in examples as diverse as Boston City Hall and Parkin’s original Terminal 1 at Pearson–modern monuments in their day, yet nearly totally unloved by the casual vox populii 40 years later.

  37. Should note it wasn’t “her dream” but she simply predicted it would be torn down in 20 years or so. I haven’t rewatched the episode — it’s on the TVO website somewhere.

  38. Maudit Parisien et fier de l’àªtre, MERDE 🙂 Toronto is free to evolve whichever way it wants, I have no right to give lessons to Torontonians and should respect their decisions in terms of urban planning and preservation. But in the case of Paris, you have to admit it’d be a pity (and extremely stupid in my opinion) to sacrifice its beauty for the sake of “modernity”.

    And if we have a huge bunch of old buildings, so what? I like having a sense of place. I like the thought of knowing I’m in a special city that has its own architectural style. I like to be surrounded by beauty. I hate the feeling of being in the middle of an (often ugly) concrete jungle and think this could be anywhere else with the same boring and standardized architecture you could find anywhere else in the world (NO, I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT TORONTO. I STILL FIND THAT TORONTO HAS ITS OWN DISTINCT FEELING, UNLIKE OTHER LARGE CITIES).

    Paris is not a museum that’s fixed in the past. AND PARISIANS DON’T LIVE IN THE PAST!!! The very large number of buildings that have been saved (WHICH I PERSONALLY FIND VERY FORTUNATE) doesn’t stop it from being a modern city. Many 19th century buildings have been converted into offices, which is a proof that modernization doesn’t always need to go with destruction and that these buildings are adapted or have their place in a modern city.

    Also, it’s misleading to just look at the city of Paris itself, which covers a ridiculously small area compared to other cities of similar status. True, the built environment in the centre didn’t change that much, but look at the outskirts! What about the La Défense skyscrapers? We’ve also had our own version of urban sprawl, for the best and the worst. And what about our typical “suburbs” the “cités” which so many tourists have now learned to fear? Surely they weren’t here a century ago!

    True, the laws regulating construction in Paris are extremely constraining, and I’m the first one who would acknowledge that French bureaucracy can be a bitch! But creativity and respect for the historical legacy and for the existing built environment don’t necessarily have to contradict each other. Paris isn’t just a collection of heterogeneous buildings. Each building forms a whole with its environment. It is that kind of harmony which I like about Paris.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to Toronto several times and don’t hate your city at all 🙂 But Paris will always remain Paris: snobbish, bitchy, and incurably franà§ais!

  39. “But in the case of Paris, you have to admit it’d be a pity (and extremely stupid in my opinion) to sacrifice its beauty for the sake of “modernity”.”


    It isn’t a matter of sacrificing its beauty; it’s the ability to appreciate its not-so-“beautiful” (and even concrete-jungleish) parts, as part and parcel of a dynamic, comprehensive urban-fabric whole. And even the more sophisticated, “developed” conoisseurs of Parisian urban form recognize the fact.

    There’s many truly valid reasons to love Paris. But it does Paris an injustice to sugarcoat its “harmonious” parts: it leaves things as sterile as a lot of New Urbanist fantasy.

    Though conversely, it isn’t like some version of the “Parisian flaw” doesn’t increasingly exist in other successful urban centres, either–Toronto not excluded, and unfortunately, that encompasses the Toronto frequently associated with the realm of Spacing (think in terms of “Stuff White People Like”). But at least the Spacing gang has the sense to reach beyond that geo-cultural manacle. And keeping that “we’re in the same boat now” principle in mind, it gives me all the more reason to (re?)appreciate Paris–the mythologized old parts. But always inextricable from the new, and the occasional political and social tragedies that come part of the package.

  40. I’d say “Thanks”, Parky, but the netnanny has forbidden conversing with other posters and going off topic. Infamous? Moi? 🙂


    On topic, Toronto is far from a blank slate, in Latin or English. Those who would erase the past uh, something, something, something (insert your own ominous ending).

  41. Adam-“That is, she anticipates that the ROM Crystal will be something so pathologically loathed that the consensus will be, “it’s got to go”–providing, of course, that the replacement is sufficiently world-class superior so as to excuse doing away with Libeskind.”
    I don’t try to be very precise as the matter seems obvious to me. Demolishing by consensus ? What I meant is that as long as architecture is not perceived as art social-urban-art(in general sense)there is no chance for a mature architecture, Toronto architecture. Even we are extremely sure that we can do “better”. Think Robarts library, it has its value,I will not develop this, demolishing would be a huge mistake. Do we burn books or paintings when we don’t like them ? Or do we plan demolishing condo buildings in 20 years that massacres the shore ?
    I mean that by launching this kind of idea she undermines the essence of city-building.
    Also, consensual thinking on city building are city’s worst enemy. Accepting the different, a different logic and making it work with the other, accepting complexity is the essence of urban planning and architecture, at least for me. The complexity is the nature of the city, consensus is a tool not the scope. Sorry for repeating, I guess that’s why the Toronto neo-modernism is so exclusive of other, its so consensual.

  42. I wished Lisa Rochon’s actual “demolision dream” was what Cristian mentions, those condos that massacre our shoreline today.

    *Can anyone see Skydome, ACC or the Royal York anymore??? They’re fading fast from our lanscape.

    ON a side note, i visited the “Building Stories” photo exhibit this past weekend(@Gladstone) and I couldn’t help but be saddened by all the runned down, beautiful abandoned buildings this city has(*too many to mention) Toronto is doing well to keep its historical heritage alive, but do you think it could do more?

  43. And when the Skydome, ACC and Royal York were built, it blocked the view of something else. And those something else’s blocked the view of something else. That’s how city’s work.

    There are a handful of real dud condos on the waterfront, but largely most have turned derelict tracts of land into very dense places where lots of people live. You see massacre, I see lots of Torontonians living in an appropriate place.

  44. Why does densification need to happen in the waterfront-downtown core?? And if this needs to happen, where are the green spaces for the general public to use? Derelict tracts of land are shamefully sold to insensitive developers that may bring people to live in their area, but pay no attention in building at the waterfront with green spaces in mind.

    That aside, you’re right, building-blocking is evident everywhere, and this is why toronto’s downtown shoreline has been extended further out into lake ontario since the 50’s/60’s.

    All i’m saying, estheticly, what would you rather have, a shoreline with a massive public park with beaches for people to go to, or condos/commercial buildings that leave little room for public involvement and would only benefit the few people that can afford these condos?

    Are you saying you would have rathered “not” had a mega city park beside Skydome, running towards the CNE than the “condo city” that’s there now? Be honest now.

  45. “And when the Skydome, ACC and Royal York were built, it blocked the view of something else. And those something else’s blocked the view of something else. That’s how city’s work.”

    Generally, the urban debate and city-building looks for coherence, legibility or identity as coming from Kevin Lynch or Jane Jacobs or Franà§oise Choay. I would ask for more than dense places where lots of people live.
    As a side note,I need to say that the intensity of (some?) of my remarks comes from my interest in the city and the appreciation for this public debate space.

  46. Hmmmmm. I wonder if the inside of the ROM is any good.

  47. Although I see a number of glaring mistakes in the condos which now dot our waterfront, I must balance that against a severe mistrust of governments to provides us with an effective grand alternative to private development. If Waterfront Toronto has taught us anything, it’s that as good as governmental organizations are at coming up with large plans, they’re terrible at executing them. Private developers have the reverse problem; there’s no unity of purpose, but shit get’s done.

    And it did get done. The central waterfront is developed, almost fully. Look at the big waterfront plan and you’ll see things like HTO, simply filling in the odd spots not currently in use. Although they may seem like an afterthought, they should go a long way to offering greater unity among the various styles of condo buildings.

    And to those that think the shoreline doesn’t offer enough for people to do or enough green space to enjoy, I offer you the islands. A large, green, undeveloped space on our waterfront. If that isn’t a mega city park, what is?

    As for Skydome, I would rather have people there than not have people there. All stadiums have the problem of being relative ghost-towns in the off-season. Placing a bunch of developments in close proximity to the Dome means that we aren’t surrendering large quantities of land to 6 months of substantial use. That might be the best kind of planning.

  48. Parkdalian> By all means, I’d rather have people living in those places than a big park. Downtown is for people. And I don’t want it to be a park because adjacent to the Skydome/CN Tower is a big park, around the Steamwhistle brewery. And there is a Park going in between Spadina and Bathurst.

    As Josh points out there are the Islands – and starting at Bathurst, kilometers and kilometers of underused waterfront park. Everybody wants more parks, but the parks that are there are ignored in their analysis.

  49. The ROM crystal is crap inside. While it’s a large volume of space, the angled walls and irregular floor plans mean the galleries all feel cramped. The entrance is bizarre and gloomy with placement of the ticket purchase lines blocking the way to the ticket takers. There’s almost no natural light so the soaring space feels oppressive. The spirit room on the main floor is just ridiculous, unless you like triangles and darkness. Maybe that’s what clubs in Nolita feel like, but it’s a lousy place to bring a family.

    The dino gallery is a good example of how the interior was neglected. The floorplate isn’t that big, so that a lot of the skeletons are sort of crammed together, and there’s no way to step back and appreciate what should be grand displays. Even worse, for exhibits that need height, the sloping walls provide further constraints on proper display. Contrast that with the dinosaur museum in Drumheller Alberta, where large rectangular rooms, thoughtful design of pedestrian flow, and dramatic lighting produce a memorable experience.

    In short the crystal is all about the exterior form, not about the displays or the experience inside the building. It should be demolished because it’s a horrible space to be in, and it does no justice to the collections it contains.

  50. Shawn: You’re defenitely entitled to your opinion but i’m a firm believer that the waterfront/downtown core belongs to the people(*ie public space), not private space(ie-residential development) That’s what this condo development really is doing, turning potentially great green land into a “blocked artery” of concrete and glass.

    But hey, if you want to immerse yourself in densification(with probably a blocked view of the lake, since they’ll be another condo built right beside yours) then by all means.

    We seem to all have different ideas as to what’s a respectable-sized park aswell. Hyde, Central or Grant park pops to mind. But then again, we tend to think small in this city.

  51. “All i’m saying, estheticly, what would you rather have, a shoreline with a massive public park with beaches for people to go to, or condos/commercial buildings that leave little room for public involvement and would only benefit the few people that can afford these condos?”


    Yeah, I know, dreams of Ipanema on Toronto Harbour. But logistically, given the nature of usage here, that would have been all but impossible to carry out–not only because of the linging industrial legacy, but also because of overbearing complexes like Harbour Square putting their foot in the door even *before* the feds “gifted” Harbourfront to the city.

    And besides, when it comes to urban aesthetics, you forgot about an even more fascinating third option, which was sort of extemporaneously carried out in Harbourfront’s winsome pre-condo early days: a shoreline as one long proto-urban-explorationist playscape/dreamscape among the remains of industrial archaeology. And I’m sure there’s a lot of people who miss that magical 70s incarnation of Harbourfront more than they’d miss any potential “public park with beaches”–and the enduring urge to cling to Canada Malting or to ooh-aah at Redpath is a potent legacy of all that.

  52. Parkdalian: the waterfront is done. It’s developed. The hope of having a view from Union Station to the lake, for whatever purpose that would serve…is gone and was gone years ago.

    Those condo towers you deride are built and aren’t going anywhere. Especially because they are full of…PEOPLE! Lots and lots of people; from more than just one economic range, as you would suggest. Futhermore, what single development takes up the largest part of the central waterfront? The answer: Harbourfront Centre. Add to that the Queens Quay Building (which houses the largest theatre at Harbourfront) with HTO and the community centre and co-ops at the foot of Bathurst and it would seem that among all those condos is quite going on for anyone that doesn’t fit into to your “not rich enough for the condos” bracket.

    When the day comes that the people have used so much of the space that is already available to them that Harbourfront Centre (for example) is bursting at the seams, then we should look at expanding public space. But let me tell you from experience, those facilities are not at capacity. The islands are busy, but they are not bursting. HTO is used, but not overused and as Shawn so aptly put it, that entire western part of the waterfront, which stretches right past Parkdale, is woefully underused.

    Density on the waterfront is a good thing, at least we know (similar to the lands around the Dome) that the area is being used, by people, 12 months out of the year. Otherwise, in your park scheme, we have more land not being used at capacity 6 months of the year and empty for the other 6. How is that an improvement?

  53. “I also don’t understand “the view of the lake”. Anything over 6 feet tall blocks the lake.”

    Thats technically true Shawn but seriously I expect better than that from you. I think people are talking about having a vista and you cant tell me that you dont get that. I would add that I do think people should live downtown but having some breathing space that takes in some shoreline is not a bad thing either. I see room for both views expressed.

  54. No, Scott, people explicitly say “view of the lake” not “sky vista”. There is no view of the lake unless you’re within a few hundred meters of it, as anything — structures now, bushes before the city was there — blocks it.

    It’s a fictional “view of the lake” that gets plunked into debates all the time — fat with moral authority — that does not, and never has, existed.

    If it’s a view of the sky, then let’s talk about the view of the sky – but that applies to the whole city, not just to the people who live down at the lake who are blocking it.

    As Josh points out, there is lots of breathing room down by the Lake. When people say there isn’t, I start to think they’ve never been there, or they just couldn’t take their eyes off of the slab of Harbour Square, and resent it so much, they forget about everything else.

    Though maybe that’s a good idea for a public walk — “through the breathing room along the lake”. Could take all day.

  55. I expected a little more from you also Shawn. When i read your last comment, i didn’t know whether to take your internet sarcasm and roll with it.. or simply politely withdrawl. I chose the latter(*until now)

    You obviously chose to debate one insignificant part of my last statements(lake views) and chose to ignore the rest, and i’ll respect that. That’s why i politely refrained from talking about “views” since thats not really my core issue here.

    To Shawn and Josh, who’s saying that if there were a central park where condo land sits(*spadina/skydome), people wouldn’t utilize it 12 months of the year??? Is Central Park dead also during the winter months??? Do we not live in Canada? Can we not come up with interesting/ innovating things to incorporate into parks to attract people? Do you really think that by shoving condos into toronto’s “touristic core” advertises our city better?(*not only for tourists but for us residents also?) Public space is sorelly dismissed in this discussion, which worries me.

    Josh, i never said a view from “union” was beneficial? Please don’t fabricate things. In respect to views, i was simply talking to shawn about blocked views from condo owners homes. Thank you.

    Also, you mentioned that we should “wait till our waterfront explodes at the seams before we think about installing public space”. I found this statement horrific and i’m sure glad you’re not a city planner. By your forsight, we should build as many buildings as possible at the waterfront and let them grow with “people”(YAY people) until folks can’t walk outside anymore because they’ll bump into the next building beside them. With all due respect.

    I also don’t understand peoples claim that parks or public spaces now are “under-utilized”. Harbourfront is buzzing with excitement during the winter months(festivals/art exhibits/skating) If anything, people want more places like these. Don’t build condos so people feel “cool” that they live downtown simply because there’s some empty land. Be creative people, maybe read some Richard Florida or Charles Landry books, something!

  56. And let’s just agree Josh, that you’re “not” a fan of public spaces near waterfronts. But i don’t agree that the western waterfront stretch towards parkdale is underdeveloped. Just because you don’t go walking down there, to breath in some fresh air off the lake during the winter months, doesn’t mean it’s being under-utilized. In fact, many new parks and paths have been put in place there and many folks enjoy them(*year round)

  57. My last comment was absolutely sincere Parkdalian. If you drop a straw man into a debate, it deserves to be interrogated.

    Your view of the downtown, as built right now, is radically different than mine. I’m agreeing to disagree with you at this point.

  58. The waterfront is an exceptional natural setting in the city, in cities these areas are often protected by law and developed in a way that makes them available to public as much as possible, summer and winter.
    A waterfront area can have “depth” so the pedestrian circulation (and urban life) can flow naturally and gradually from the city, could be really urban and the city could be a waterfront city instead of a city that does happen to have a lake-sea on the side.
    Also it can be the main tourist area of a city if the right mix of program is used. Mixity would be the main feature of a waterfront (condo, commercial, cultural, etc).
    It could be the main suite of public spaces of the city and could define and represent the city more than a distant post card image.
    It’s the perfect location for cultural institutions (opera-Sydney, London-Oslo, museum,etc) or other (aquarium, education,etc). Certainly not industries (19th century industrial revolution usage).A lot of 19th century industrial heritage on waterfronts was transformed in cultural institutions in Asia, N-America or Europe. Possible in Toronto, Lorraine Kimsa theatre for young people, etc.
    The condo agglomeration has nothing urban in it, it’s a waste of natural value, the islands are not urban (partly) and obviously not connected.
    What’s missing is the urbanity, the public space, the civic space. The waterfront competition was aimed to this issues, on the space not occupied yet by condo towers.

  59. “Certainly not industries (19th century industrial revolution usage).A lot of 19th century industrial heritage on waterfronts was transformed in cultural institutions in Asia, N-America or Europe. Possible in Toronto, Lorraine Kimsa theatre for young people, etc.”

    What do you mean not industries? Redpath seems to coexist well as *20th* century industrial heritage–and think of how much of it *here* was transformed into so-called cultural institutions (York/John Quay, the Power Plant, Queen’s Quay Terminal, even Crosse & Blackwell). Indeed, as I mentioned, the “industrial heritage” angle was what gave the 70s incarnation of Harbourfront its magic–maybe Toronto’s earliest, sweetest incarnation of what tends to be attributed to the Distillery District, the Don Valley Brickworks, the Wychwood Barns these days.

  60. Good golly, Miss Molly.

    Parkdalian: I will absolutely not agree that I’m not a fan of public spaces near the waterfront. And if that’s what you’ve taken out my previous comments that I suggest you read them a bit more carefully.

    I feel like we’re talking in circles. You say there should be public space on the waterfront and I reply that there already is such space. How does that possibly translate into my being against public space? You want more space? There is (if you have faith in Waterfront Toronto) a plan for that.

    So, I guess my problem is that I don’t know your problem? Are you dissatisfied with the Waterfront plan? I think it’s pretty good and I don’t see things as being as broken as you do. I’m curious, what’s missing from the plan that you’d add?

    (p.s…I live in Parkdale too and have for a long time. Please consider that other people might have their own perspective on the level of usage on the Western waterfront. Is it well used? Yes. It’s it at or over capacity? I think, no. Are there as many people down there in the winter? Definitely, no. And yeah…I’ve looked.)

  61. Perhaps our discussion on waterfronts got blown a little too westward for my liking. Sorry for the confussion.

    While talking to shawn, we were talking about the spadina/queens quay area and with josh, the western waterfront(*cne to humber river)

    The western waterfront i have no problems with. The spaces there have already been treated well and i don’t see a need for further residential development there. There’s plenty of green and open space for city inhabitants to retreat to(*minus the gardiner of course)

    The waterfront between the dvp and the cne is an area where i felt was overly dense. And i don’t mean along queens quay, i meant along the railway lines from the dvp to bathurst. I just feel like the city let a golden opportunity to build a great green corridor slip away there.

    But you’re right, it’s all been developed already so what’s the point of complaining about it.


  62. “I just feel like the city let a golden opportunity to build a great green corridor slip away there.”

    Ah, but remember my remarks about the 70s post-industrial, pre-condo incarnation of Harbourfront.

    I wouldn’t be surprised that if *that* were swept away for a “great green corridor”–never mind the present condos (and I suppose that in an extreme case scenario, even things like the Terminal Warehouse or Tip Top might bite the dust, too)–we might be hearing the kinds of “lost opportunity” regrets that one more typically identifies with the de-cottaging of Centre Island, or the de-amusement-parking of Sunnyside. Indeed, I already have such trepidations about the kinds of overzealous opponents to Island Airport who’d do away with *all* evidence of the airport, original 1939 terminal building and all–as if it were a stigmatized murder scene.

    And of course, as we know from the Wychwood Barns or Don Valley Brickworks, you can creatively adapt the “brown” and still be “green”–consider that as a hint of what an “industrialesque” Harbourfront “could have been”.