As architects, we must pay careful attention to, listen to, and observe how our many culturally and ethnically-diverse communities are contributing to the development of our surroundings. Our urban conditions and the associated architectural manifestations are developing in ways that are informal and often unplanned. If designers fail to consider these changes, then we will have missed valuable opportunities to contribute to the spatial qualities of our communities. The current situation of the suburban strip malls for example, represents a type of space where complex socialization patterns occur across various socio-economic segments of the population that requires considered designed solutions. Commerce, religion, education, and public spaces are being developed, occupied and understood in these mall territories that will continue to arrange themselves as something distinctly heterogeneous and Canadian. Our challenge is to continue to facilitate the evolution of these cosmopolitan opportunities in our cities and ensure that design opportunities flourish as social trends evolve across cultures and throughout Canada. It is difficult to plan for elements of our city that are appropriated and mutated by our various populations. Nonetheless, the strength of Toronto’s character resides in these multiple readings being developed by our many ethnic communities, hence Toronto’s reading as Multipli-city.
In the exurban regions or Toronto, the city recently built itself the capricious Yonge-Sheppard subway line that is grafted onto the main Yonge Street subway arterial. This subway line runs along an under-developed suburban corridor and terminates essentially at an Ikea store and a North York General Hospital. Along the several subway stops, one can find a series of public art projects. One that is particularly thought provoking is Stacey Spiegel's Immersion Land. Using a panoramic camera, Spiegel processed a series of photographs onto millions of tiny porcelain tiles. These tiles present images that are clear from a distance but pixellated and abstract when viewed at close range. The murals are in many ways representative of the city. Spiegel's installation suggests a displaced landscape of nostalgia and one of an imagined farmland that might have existed several metres above the transit platform before succumbing to the inexorable urban sprawl and development of the past fifty years.
Images of displaced, virtual landscapes can form the backdrop for real and emerging urban landscapes full of promise. Subway cars mercilessly move back and forth while commuters trace their daily itineraries across large, smooth platforms and rise through levels that contribute to the making of a particular urban dynamic. This piece of urban infrastructure, despite its cost and contentious raison d'être, represents a belief in the future of our city. Nonetheless, the itinerary below this exurban landscape has been rendered neutral, despite its infrastructure of promise.
When most buildings are under construction, it gives architects great pleasure to stop and admire the beauty and strength of an exposed steel skeleton. When a steel frame emerges in the city, an opportunity arises to demonstrate the massive, elegant and intricate qualities of an emergent architectural form.
Unfortunately, as construction moves to completion, the graceful power of the steel frame is concealed under the genteel skin of its “building envelope.” The reasons are obvious: contents need to be protected from the elements. Occupants need to be warm and comfortable. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just leave the steel skeletons exposed indefinitely and allow them to reveal their beauty through beams, flanges and bolts?
As part of the new expansion of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), a recent late-winter tour through the emerging Michael A. Lee-Chin Crystal, designed by Daniel Libeskind offered a rare opportunity to study a complex and elegant steel frame. After much media attention over the personality of the architect and his napkin sketches the Crystal is taking shape.
While enjoying the opportunity to see an emerging architectural intervention, it is interesting to note how the steel skeleton does not touch any of the existing walls of the ROM. The skeleton stretches and leans, but does not impose its weight upon the original building. It reaches out independently from any existing structure, yet remains protected within the open courtyard of the existing building. For now, the Crystal’s skeleton allows the imagination to interpret its final form. It has already become clear that the forecourt of the new ROM will give the citizens of fair Toronto an outdoor urban space to appropriate and call their own. As construction advances, the skeleton will be given its cladding and a more genteel appearance.
But for now, one can appreciate the bravado of the steel workers, their shop drawings and the thousands of tons of steel that have been forged, bent, drilled, welded and bolted into place.