ROM, June 2007

Back when it was first announced in 2002, my gut reaction to the ROM renovation was immediately negative. I am, however, coming around to passivity.

When I examine my own intial response, I think it can be summed up as a reaction to its "irresponsibility" as architecture, similar to the cotemporary addition to the Ontario College of Art and Design. I was responding to a feeling that the lack of civic responsiveness and respectability in the execution of these designs was a flagrant violation of the seriousness of Architecture. While by no means have I changed my mind about the lack of urban sensitivity and refined sensibility (lets face it, the crystal is gaudy, like a fat diamond ring!), I have seriously softened my demand for these things as obligations to either the architectural profession or to society. I can accept this "architecture as reaction" or this "architecture as spectacle" or this "architecture as personal expression", whatever you wish to denote it as, insofar as they represent voices in a necessary built dialogue. In other words, I can respect what the architect, Libeskind, and his team think they are doing and their vitality and energy in attempting it, whether or not I respect the final form. I am willing to admit this as a concession to plurality in the built environment.

Libeskind feels a need to break down the rectilinear and cellular structures of traditional museums. This is in keeping with a fairly noble idea of reinventing and loosening up the rigid story-lines we associate with the curation of knowledge. He wants, I believe, to architecturally represent the popular philosophic belief that our relationship to knowledge, and to truth should become more dynamic. The problem is of course that this is very difficult to accomplish through static architectonics. The crystal, while implying movement, is, or we hope is, static. The architecture then, failing in this attempt at dynamism, ends up relying upon showmanship, spectacularism, and its role as a monument to the architect - a celebration of his genius. Unfortunately this building, as civic monument, is a one liner, a joke got before its told. Let's hope then that it proves to be a useful space for displaying the ROM's impressive collection of curiousities.