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Hero: The ROM Crystal (Exterior)

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains of 2007––the people, places, and things that we’ve either fallen head over heels in love with or developed uncontrollable rage towards over the past twelve months. Get your dose, starting Boxing Day and running into the new year, three times a day––sunrise, noon, and sunset.
“Initially, when I saw the design, I was most reticent.”
Those words were Michael Lee-Chin’s, on Daniel Libeskind’s concept for the ROM––and that’s probably putting it politely. The Crystal is a building that’s easy to hate: derivative of Libeskind’s other work, inspired by a napkin scribble, slapped on top of a gorgeous old building, not all glass as hoped, and wildly attention-grabbing in a city that likes its buildings straight up and down rather than wildly angular. The thing was practically asking for it.
But the ROM Crystal is a grower, not a shower, and it’s just what we need: an architectural icon, and a new legend. It bursts out of the concrete (its jutting-out is the best example of a building of its magnitude actually literally connecting with the street) and is full of all sorts of neat surprises––those sidewalks that glisten at night, those windows you can see your reflection in from street level. It is the opposite of the utilitarian buildings we have far too much of; it’s more like architecture for architecture’s sake, the most beautiful tourist trap the city’s ever had.
And hell, it’s only been half a year and it’s already survived a bomb scare, a lightsaber battle, a few big snowstorms, and a hell of a lot of vitriol. Things can only get better.
Photo by Dave Macintyre from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.


  • Acadie

    This is not a Hero of any kind, has to be one of the most atrocious looking buildings I have ever seen. What an eyesore, looks like cheap siding. It ruined what was possible one of the best looking buildings in Toronto. How anyone can see this as anything but a cheap looking, badly designed building is beyond me. The tie in to the older structure is horrid, the look seems like someone was pulling a fast joke on the city. I just hate, hate, this new addition to what once was a majestic looking building into this foolish looking atrocity.

  • JonathanS

    Meh – really, this thing would have been amazing if they were able to pull off the original all-glass design.
    Personally, I don’t care if the building is straight up-and-down or angular: this resembles nothing like a crystal and more like the broken dreams of an architect out of touch with engineering reality. I kind of feel like we were all cheated by mediocre planning (not to mention drawn-out execution).
    The metal cladding is merely okay and not great. Definitely not a “hero”.

  • Miles Storey

    I was away from Toronto for several months and returned just after the opening. I was excited to check out the building but I couldn’t believe the cladding, I thought an aluminum siding storage facility had collapsed on the museum.
    I like the design, the way the ‘crystal’ seems to be lurching out of the ground around the original building, but the cladding just takes all the oomph out of it. And the class.
    An all glass design might have been amazing.

  • Toby von Meistersinger

    Daniel Libeskind is not an architect, he is a scam artist just like Frank Ghery. Talk enough BS and come up with something that looks like something out of a trash can and charge an absurd amount of money for your services and you are an architect.

  • james a

    I’m definitely on the “hero” side of the fence.
    I LOVE the way it looks.

  • David E

    Daniel Libeskind is not an architect and the extension to the ROM is a travesty of design.
    I imagine it’ll be gone in about 25 years, just like the building that preceded it.
    Don’t get me started on the AGO’s new building and how its height overwhelms the trees and everything in Grange Park.

  • spacejack

    If you start with the traditional architecture of the UTS building at Huron, then jump to the Bata Shoe Museum, then to the ROM, it’s kind of like a morph sequence: square->bursting->burst.
    I dunno though, this whole idea of the “new” exploding out of the “old” seems kind of trite and even a bit too lowbrow.
    I haven’t been inside yet, but some friends of mine did and said the place makes you feel uncomfortably dizzy, like that old swaying ship exhibit at the Science Centre.
    In any case, one can only hope that in another 80 years, the big architectural idea of the moment will come crashing through this structure.

  • rek

    I like the Crystal — at night. At night it’s kind of sleek and cool. During the day it’s more like the aftermath of a tornado in a trailer park.

  • elliot

    one of my favourite things about the crystal is the little part you can see peaking over the top of the brick part of the rom from philosopher’s walk. it’s such a nice touch.
    i agree with this article.

  • Johnnie Walker

    While I don’t find the outside nearly as offensive as the inside, I am confused as to how exactly it came to be. How did such a major architect make such a huge oversight in not realising his original glass-design was not structurally sound? It seems like the kind of thing you’d learn about in Architecture 101. I mean, as a complete non-architect, if someone had proposed the all-glass design to me, I think I would ask, “are you sure that will, you know, work?” And then, once the mistake had been realised, why the attempt to salvage a botched idea? Why not come up with a new, physically-possible design? It all seems a bit, “you mean we can’t build a museum out of rainbows? What if we make the rainbows out of cement?”
    Still, I don’t get the complaints that the reno ruins the ROM. The Queen’s Park side was the nice part, and it’s the same. The Bloor Street side was totally boring before, save the relocated lions, which it certainly cannot be called any longer. And it does look kinda cool at night.

  • davedave

    The ROM blows.
    We were told crystal! crystal! crystal! A beautiful glass shape!
    What did we get? A tacky disaster: cheap-looking, lame metal siding devoid of any character with sliver windows here and there like a bad tetris game.
    I don’t understand how the architect won the competition with the grandiose design without checking its feasibility. What a disgrace.
    As stupid as the architect of the Montreal Olympic stadium. Yes! This soaring concrete mast will support a roof that OPENS! Gets the job, builds the stadium, then confesses uhhh, no. the roof – no, it can’t open. My design was 100% flawed.

  • Stacey

    I am with most of the people here, I think the Crystal is atrocious and I nearly barf every time I see anxious suburbanites trying to take their picture in front of it! (which is ridiculous in and of itself considering there is no way a phototgrapher on street level will capture the entire thing –which is really what makes the poser want to be captured beside it –instead they look like they are at the side of trendy trailer home)
    But I digress, the real reason I hate it is because the year of its conception I learned the postmodern term ‘pastiche’ and ‘pastiche’ is exactly what that do-hickie is: postmodernism throwing up all over the old. Not that I am detracting from old meets new postmodern art, it just does not work in this case, in my humble old opinion.

  • MaryDunne

    Nope, not a hero. A villian. All these aluminum-siding/trailer park comparisons are spot on. Nothing about the ROM Crystal resembles a crystal. I always thought an all-glass design was a bad idea for a museum anyway. Sunlight is very damagaging – why would you want valuable rare objects exposed to sunlight anyway? That’s the reason why museums and galleries generally have few windows. Again, something you’d think you’d learn in Architecture 101.

  • Skippy the Magical Racegoat

    I agree with the majority of the posters here. I consider the ROM addition to be a grotesque tragedy. I’m sure I’ll get used to it after a few years, but at the moment I find it embarrassing.
    I think my main complaint is, I happen to think the original ROM was quite literally the finest building in Toronto. If they applied this monstrosity to any other edifice in the city, I would’ve said “go for it.”
    But if you go down Philosopher’s Walk you can still see remnants of what the ROM used to be: an incredibly well-realized celebration of classical architecture. And now look at it! What man would love you now, ROM?

  • Miles Storey

    MaryDunne, it’s possible they had taken that into consideration with the type of glass, using one that filtered out harmful wavelengths, or maybe they didn’t and that’s why it became too expensive.
    It seems like architects make mistakes all the time. The Bibliothèque nationale de France, one of Mitterrand’s grand public works (that you have to pay to use), had to install wooden shutters because no one apparently considered that sunlight might be harmful to the books.
    So it wouldn’t have been the first time.

  • Diisparishun

    Interesting, Miles — when Quebec resolved to build a Very Large Libarry in the image of France’s national institutions, I didn’t know they’d be mimicking the architectural oversights, too. (Although this oversight is more Toronto- than Paris-like: Montreal’s Great Library of Quebec has a falling plate glass problem. Areas of the street have been cordoned off in response.)

  • Kristin Foster

    @Johnnie Walker: Remember who it’s named after? Michael Lee Chin? This guy (according to wiki) poneyed up $30 million of the $270 million it cost to build the new structure.
    This is purely speculation, but let’s say Chin wanted a glass structure. Let’s say the architechts, the city reps and, heck, even your grandmother know better than to house ancient artifacts in a glass structure. It’s simple logic. Just the problems with moisture, heat and exposure to UV rays would be enough to eliminate glass as a building material early on.
    Maybe not when one of the big funders is pushing for a glass structure, though.
    In addition, I think a lot of Toronto would have been appalled if that 75% aluminium 25% glass structure had been unveiled in the planning stages at press conferences. Honestly, does Toronto need yet another dull, grey building? What the crystal was supposed to be and what it is now are worlds apart.
    What’s truly embarassing is that we are expected to shit our pants in excitement for having just barely met the bar (if at all) as far as architechtural standards in major cities go. And is the wider population even aware that Liebskind is doing the Humminbird Centre condo tower as well? It’s insult to injury, when we could and should be supporting and celebrating home-grown talent One team that comes to mind is that of Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe, award-winning architechts based in Toronto.

  • scottd

    Thank God for Photoshop.