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2006 08 21
Building the ROM Crystal - Status 30 - Satellite View
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Google Earth's satellite photos cover most of the globe to varying degree of image detail. Its view of downtown Toronto is a few years old as this image of the Royal Ontario Museum illustrates. This Google Earth view, skewed to approximate the same angle as the ROM's Crystal construction cam, shows the Crystal's architectural predecessor. The space between the earlier northern wings of the ROM was filled with a six storey addition. Built between 1978 and 1983, the addition by Moffat & Kinoshita added administration offices as well as a gallery for the museum's prestigious Chinese collection. The new wing lasted just over twenty years before it was demolished to make way for Daniel Libeskind's Crystal..

Our ability to accumulate knowledge through computer technologies like this satellite image, for example, accelerates our understanding of the world around us to the point where all bricks and mortar manifestations of that understanding become either transient or irrelevant. No wonder the Moffat & Kinoshita wing lasts only twenty years -- a symptom only topped by the AGO's recent demolition of the KPMB galleries completed just fifteen years ago. Culture is no longer defined and/or contained in the permanent iconic form of our cultural institutions. Steel, glass, and concrete are increasingly plastic elements to be built in one decade and erased in the next. Ironically, once fragile books and more importantly because of digital media, the ideas they contain, are gaining a cultural permanence that outlasts that of the built environment.

How long will the Crystal and the new AGO survive before they too are obsolete? Given that both institutions chose acknowledged stars to design the buildings, the acceleration towards irrelevance may slow down for a generation or two. Why? We guess that the accumulated textual references that assure the architectural pedigree of the buildings' creators will last and have authority long after the buildings have become almost invisible parts of the city's built form. You can be sure though that beginning in the not too distant future curators and critics will be looking for other museum designs that better fit their age.


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[email this story] Posted by R Ouellette on 08/21 at 01:44 PM

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