Bad Buildings: Buildings With Balls
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Bad Buildings: Buildings With Balls

Vancouver Central Public Library photo by lindn.
Bad Buildings has always looked around this town of ours and bemoaned its lack of architectural cojones. For the most part, our buildings are safe, functional and dull (Four Seasons Centre, we’re looking at you).
Now and again, though, we’ve been graced (or cursed) with real bursts of boldness—risky designs that challenge the monotone drabness that pervades our built environment. The question is, though, is it enough just to be bold? Is different for its own sake really a worthy end goal?
We would say not. We cast our minds to several examples, here and away, and often shudder at the grandiosity of such gestures, which ring empty and hollow past first rubbernecking blush (we often think of Vancouver’s Central Public Library, above, built by Moshe Safdie in the 90s, as the consummate Canadian example: A structure so in love with its forced metaphor—rather obviously, a Roman Coliseum, meant to evoke Classical learning, never mind the fact that coliseums were the site of bloodbaths, not book-learnin’—that it becomes laughable).
But our judgment ends here. Why? Because we want you to decide this week. We’re offering up five bold buildings here in our home town, and want you to choose if they’re bad or not. What follows is undeniably envelope-pushing; whether they’re just bold or not is up to the jury—i.e., you—to decide.

OCAD photo by plismo.

1. The New Addition to the Ontario College of Art and Design

Will Alsop

Just a few years old, this crayon box in the sky was, at its inception, heralded as daringly whimsical by some, and frivolous junk by others. Whichever camp you fall in, you’ve got to admit, it’s got balls. No doubt on that one. But does it have anything else? What will OCAD look to our eyes in 20, 30, 40 years—a landmark, or a dorky, try-hard eyesore?

2. The ROM Crystal

Daniel Libeskind

Bad Buildings is on the record for our deep disappointment at the execution of this structure (glass, Danny, not siding—remember???). But its cojones, especially in staid old Toronto, mere blocks from Yorkville, staid old Toronto’s personal playground/theme park, can’t be questioned.

Crystal photo by Swisscan

New City Hall photo by neuroticjose.

3. New City Hall

Viljo Revell, 1965

For many, New City Hall, a Finnish import, signaled the beginning of a brilliant (and sadly, brief) era of challenging architecture. With its curving forms and expansive (some say way, way too expansive) signature plaza, Nathan Philips Square, it suggested a very Modern shift for Toronto the Good. We abandoned it fairly quickly, in favour of cheap, early-80s quick fixes, alas, but New City Hall stands as perhaps its most significant symbol.

4. Graduate House, University of Toronto

Morphosis Architects, 2000

U of T underwent an architectural renaissance in the early part of this decade, led largely by then-Dean of the school of architecture, Larry Richards. Perhaps the most controversial of them was Graduate House, for which the university commissioned hotshot L.A. architect Thom Mayne, principal of the firm Morphosis. Mayne put a challenge forth to the campus community, and the city at large. Daring? No question. Ballsy? Uh, yeah. But we’ve heard some other words for it, too.

Graduate House photo by randysodandy.
CBC Broadcast Centre photo by amy allcock.

5. CBC Broadcast Centre

Hamann/Scott Associates Architects in joint venture with John Burgee Architects Inc and Philip Johnson, 1993

We call it the monolith—a candy-coloured cube that houses most of the CBC’s operations (and, since downsizing, a bunch of non CBC-related tenants, too). We’ve heard others—namely those that work inside it—call it the Borg cube. However you may choose to describe it, a full-block-sized hulk with a 10-storey internal atrium is not architecture as usual in this town—and especially not in the midst of a recession, as was the case when it was built.