rom steel inside.JPGROMTerriMeyerBoake.JPGROM steel 21.jpgrom joints.JPG

(Photos by Terri Meyer Boake)

The Crystal is the name given to the extension to the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum), designed by the now famous Daniel Libeskind. Its currently under construction in Toronto.

Crystal. You're thinking reflective, transparent, prism, hard-edged, multi-faceted. And at the beginning that's what it seemed it would be – a gigantic collision of glass crystals nestled beside the the original museum, built in 1914.

But final models and renderings had it looking much more like a mammoth piece or origami, though without even the lightness of paper. Origami from thick cardboard maybe.It was a let down to see these images in the press.

True, the design process is one which is continually evolving. Libeskind himself, and those of his ilk, used to quietly lecture about desigNING being the thing. The process was all. Completion was frowned upon and buildings, actual built form was not architecture anymore. From the highest academic perches came the proclamation that Architecture was dead.

At the time, the mid eighties, Libeskind was producing amazing drawings. Depictions of the most abstract types of architectural drawings like axonometrics metamorphosed into explosions of line that retained depth and warped three dimensionality.They were intricate, evocative memories (or perhaps predictions) of architecture.

There's no fault in an architect struggling to get his vision off the page and onto the site. But Libeskind's visions in the form of his drawings were so complex, such an inversion of the inhabitable, of tangible buildings, it was hard to imagine how he would ever make manifest his imagination.His website is a strange, quietly provocative thing in itself – and worth having a good look at

He has since built many projects – actual buildings – which are some of the most interesting and challenging buildings anywhere. He's not only famous, he's revered..

For Torontonians passing by the site of the new extension on Bloor street, the process

Worries about the building not living up to its metaphor have been stomped on by the Godzilla that the construction site has become.

Massive steel I beams, still in their natural, gritty rust colour , fly in every direction only to intersect later at ungodly angles. The growing beast charges into the original museum (quite a beautiful, if quiet, building itself). Not only does it ignore the architectural cues of it's context, it appears to be on a seek and destroy mission against it's own ancestor.

And we mere puny humans can either duck our heads and run or stand back in awe of the of the skeleton which literally looms over the sidewalk itself, snatching out slices of sky from far above our heads.

The ROM addition is not now and seems unlikely to ever a be a 'crystal' of any kind. Its beautiful ugliness incarnate and though it goes against almost all the beliefs I hold about the social responsibilities of buildings, It's so so fracking thrilling, terrifying and 'stimulating' to see the monster grow, I almost get a hard-on

Much ado has been made of this new building addition along with a couple of others like OCAD by Alsop Architects, the AGO addition by Frank Gehry and two more projects by Libeskind: The Jewish War Veterans Memorial and The Hummingbird Centre.These are supposed to be iconic buildings for Toronto. Places that put the us on the international map and raise it to the category of 'A' list city.

But the ROM Crystal is now estimated to cost $200 million and will probably go higher. Most of these buildings have, of course, received funds from different levels of government but a huge amount has been raised from the private sector. So where's the problem, you ask, if private money is paying for these things? Nothing if it was also paying for social housing, parks, beautification and environmental controls.

The city of Toronto has been spiraling into a very deep hole of debt since services were downloaded by other levels of government. We need to expand and clean up our slowly decaying transit system. We have a visibly growing population of the homeless, tens of thousands on waiting lists for subsidized housing, gun and gang violence and parks and streets in disrepair.

Given the choice I would rather we have both. A clean, livable, compassionate city with truly exiting architecture. But our invisible star chamber of well heeled puppeteers in the private sector seem hell bent on making Toronto a city not closer to its renown as a livable city, but rather a scattered menagerie of wonders more palatable for their visiting friends from New York City.

That kind of crap we can do without.

Post script.

Libeskind's monster has since lost some of its teeth.Now we're at the cladding stage. Ugly, dead white panels are slowly covering up the steel Goliath. Acrhitectural critics like Christopher Hume assure us these hideous panels are only the under-structure for a final cladding of…more hideous white panels. We are promised lots of glass and dramatic views into the gallery holding the giant T-Rex. But its looking more and more like we'll end up with a couple of flat white poly-zoidal chunks with an occasional slice of glass. Not a crystal and no growling beast.

The recent passing of a legend of urban idealism reminds me of the other dream for Toronto. A city for people. A livible city. And she looks not unlike my mom.
Jane Jacobs


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