Anything but Crystal Clear
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Anything but Crystal Clear

The Royal Ontario Museum’s Michael Lee-Chin Crystal may or may not be one of the ugliest architectural feats known to humankind, but there’s one thing we can all agree on: original, it ain’t.
Las Vegas is usually a bit outside our jurisdiction, but we couldn’t help but do a double-take when the latest super-duper-megaresort (pictured above) opened there last week.
The $8.5-billion CityCenter is billed as the biggest private construction project in U.S. history. Spread across sixty-seven acres, it’s got hotels, casinos (of course), condos, and “Crystals,” a bourgeois mall that looks eerily like Toronto’s custom-made, $250-million landmark museum addition.
Given that the ROM was recently cited as one of the planet’s ugliest buildings by both and the Washington Post, we’re not sure if we should take this personally or not.

We thought the resemblance was a bit weird since, according to architect Daniel Liebeskind’s own website, Toronto’s crystal was “inspired by the ROM’s gem and mineral collection [and he] sketched the concept on paper napkins while attending a family wedding at the ROM.” But when the Star‘s Richard Ouzounian talked to Libeskind last week, Ouzounian posed a rather obvious question: how is it that a Las Vegas mall could, from a presumably different inspiration, end up with the same raison d’être, not to mention the same moniker? Liebeskind’s answer: the name was the owners’ idea.
The Post‘s Philip Kennicott piped in that the ROM is worse than a Wal-Mart in that it “surpasses the ugliness of bland functional buildings by being both ugly and useless.” Ouch. Sticking the knife in, he also says that Vegas’ Crystals “may be one of the architect’s best buildings, as if the shopping mall—not the museum—was the métier he’s been searching for all along.”
Hmmmm. We have to think about that a moment. Is that, like, a backhanded compliment?
Okay, you say. So, it looks the same from the outside. But ours is a museum, this just a mall. It surely can’t contain the same blank, angular interiors that make the new dino exhibit so cool….can it?
Judge for yourself, friend. From where we sit, the hallway outside Louis Vuitton looks just as familiar as the exterior streetscape gracing the Vegas strip.
Now, in fairness, Libeskind likes crystals and that’s okay. He became a full-on starchitect with Berlin’s Jewish Museum, where the zig-zagging, shard-like construction actually conveys something.
When it was announced that he would work on the ROM, we had reason to hope for a lot. While the AGO was touting Frank Gehry‘s childhood connection to the work he was doing there, Libeskind had some Toronto cred of his own: his wife, Nina, is Stephen Lewis’s sister, making him a bona fide black-suit-wearing part of Toronto’s lefty elite.
When the ROM design emerged some thought it was bold and brilliant, while others said it was just him imposing his aesthetic on a historic structure. The original design has a lot more glass and a lot less metal, but few changed their opinions when the thing opened, and that’s fine; if art isn’t a bit controversial, if people aren’t talking about it, what’s the point?
We don’t begrudge artistes the right to explore the same themes over and over again—for John Irving to write about bears and people losing limbs, for Steven Spielberg to make movies about kids and/or aliens, for Snoop Dogg to rap about bein’ a pimp who likes the pot. We’d even expect Frank Gehry to go wild with big, swooping piles of titanium, except that most people agree the reason the AGO works is because he didn’t
Anyway, what we’re really saying to Libeskind is: Come on, man. Build what you’ve gotta build but don’t bullshit a bullshitter.
And he isn’t done with Toronto yet, as the L Tower bumbles along. Will its doppelganger one day dot the skyline of some other burg? Let’s hope not.
All images from CityCenter’s website.