Archive for August 2010
Something about the external appearance of this east-end Toronto Internet cafe, located at 274 Coxwell Avenue, makes me think of the past, of avenues not taken. Maybe it’s the dated signage; maybe it’s the knowledge that the Internet cafe was likely a passing phase, midway between the isolation of the desktop at home and computer labs and the relative freedom offered my laptops and WiFi and smartphones.
Walking south from St. Clair West towards home after I bought Shakespeare his $C22.42 bag of dry cat food at a conveniently-located veterinarian’s office, I found myself walking down a residential street where children were cavorting. On my side of the street, one boy, 10 or so; on the other side of the street, on the patio, a boy and a girl. They were laughing as they spoke across the street.
– Even though she doesn’t have a girlfriend, she told me that she wanted me to pretend to be her boyfriend.
– Total fail! the boy on my side yelled.
– I told her I didn’t like being used.
Pictured here in winter, the Royal Ontario Museum’s Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, a very striking post-modernist addition to a fairly classical museum, that has inspired a lot of public reaction, most of its highly polarized and much substantially negative. In an interesting Torontoist article, Michael Boughn defends the crystal. First comparing the controversy over Daniel Libeskind’s Crystal addition to the ROM with the general support for Frank Gehry’s renovation of the Art Gallery of Ontario, he argues that Libeskind’s design deconstructs the museum nicely.
[T]he museum became material proof of the superiority of European culture, its treasure house, at the moment it literally possessed the world, contained it. The new architectures of display presented these materials flayed, pinned, and lined up in orderly presentations in rectilinear spaces that encoded significances beyond the mere visible objects. The physical orders of the halls and the cases they contained revealed the order of nature, the order of human progress, the order of knowledge that was fundamental to the emerging culture of modernity. Grouping artifacts according to nations and national schools displayed not only the artifacts, but “nation-ness” itself, as if it were “natural.” Displaying artifacts in terms of the progress of humanity, from primitive to civilized, naturalized “progress” as a given fact—as well as located its pinnacle in the culture that collected and interpreted the artifacts and created the display before which the spectator stood.
One thing Libeskind’s building does, then, and does with real zest, is explode out of the smugness of this cultural configuration. It explodes onto Bloor Street—talk about responding to your context. Many people express discomfort with this architectural assertion, but perhaps they are supposed to feel discomfort. At the very least it disrupts—I would say enlivens—what always seemed one of the most pretentious, undistinguished, nineteenth-century colonial corners in Toronto. Between the old Anglican church, the “grand” Hyatt hotel, the neo-classical Department of Household Sciences (where women in the University of Toronto learned how to clarify soup and other subjects “related to their role”—now an upscale clothing store), and the undistinguished beaux-arts façade of the museum, Bloor and Avenue roads exuded the colonial complacency associated with Orange parades and dry Sundays.
Throughout his renovation, Libeskind stripped off the surfaces that hid the museum’s history beneath the appearance of some fictional, unassailable totality. The curiosity cabinets are one such gesture. Another is the revelation of the seams where various other renovations joined the original building over the years. The illusion of a single, seamless, monumental structure is gone. More important, however, is the way he explodes the complacency of the interior spaces. Michel Serres, the French philosopher of science, has suggested that we need to start thinking of knowledge in terms of sacks rather than boxes. Libeskind may not go quite that far, but there is nary a box to be found in his new spaces.
Further down, commenter aleksey has a somewhat different take, arguing that the Crystal is good not great architecture, that it was certainly better than the other proposals, and that Toronto will get used to it, perhaps one day building up a tolerance for great architecture.
Me? I visited the ROM with family on Saturday, and I think that the crystal has grown on me. The crystal provides a spectacular background for the fossil displays on the second floor, especially the dinosaurs, while the windows allow for interesting interactions between the museum interior and the exterior streetscape. I think that, after years, I come down firmly on the side of “like.”
This Ain’t the Rosedale Library, during its three decades of existence one of the premiere independent bookstores of Toronto–indeed, arguably the world—came to an end this June when the bailiff changed the locks on the door. Once located at Church and Wellesley, in the past year it had moved to Kensington Market to escape rising rents, but here, it seems, the rent-to-income ratio was still too high. The closure saddens me: for any number of reasons, it was one of my favourite bookstores, ever.