Villain: The ROM Crystal (Interior)
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.
From price hikes to bomb hoaxes, the ROM has been a constant news item this year. But while Thorarinn Jonsson’s silliness left us unburdened with tangible consequences, the same cannot be said for Daniel Libeskind’s Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, which is a mess our museum will be cleaning up for years. The exterior has divided the critics. Some praise its bold fusion of a modern structure with the existing edifice. Others compare it to a giant metal spider from space. But in focusing on whether the exterior of the building is a masterpiece or a disasterpiece, very little time has been spent discussing the interior. From the looks of things, very little money or planning went into that part of the Crystal. A confusing, artless layout and an abundance of cheap building materials make the Crystal’s insides slightly less appealing than an IKEA. The second you step inside the new entrance, you’re immediately shoved into a dimly lit coat check with a claustrophobically low ceiling. Things slightly improve after you enter the main atrium, although the juxtaposition of the new building’s starkness with the richly decorated older wings creates a comparison from which the Crystal does not profit.
For years, the ROM has complained about insufficient space, claiming the collection on display was the tip of an iceberg whose main body lay hidden in storage. Yet this new addition to the building adds little in terms of gallery space. Half of it has been used to house the new gift shop and restaurant, not to mention dubiously educational features such as the “Spirit House” or the “J.P. Driscoll Family Stair of Wonders,” which is a real missed opportunity. What could have been a jam-packed treasure trove of eclectic curiosities in the spirit of Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum is instead just a big, white stairwell with a few toy soldiers and seashells shoved in the walls. While the Crystal’s interior windows and skylights are sometimes visually interesting, many of them provide unimpressive views and are already coated in an inch of dust. Does no one at the ROM have a Swiffer? The choice of white as the colour for everything means dirt, scuff marks and cracks in the walls are embarrassingly obvious. There is no reason “modern architecture” has to be synonymous with “crappily made.” Just look at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts with its gorgeous auditorium and lobby. Hopefully some of the kinks will be ironed out next year when the new galleries will all be fully up and running. Even so, too much of the inside of the Crystal renovation looks in need of, well, a renovation.
Photo by Marc Lostracco.