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2007 08 08
FILMPORT Toronto: Economic Disaster Or Just Bad Design Or Both?
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Waiting for the Mayor to unveil FILMPORT

Dateline 3:29 PM Wednesday afternoon, August 8. I went to the FILMPORT site to watch Mayor David Miller announce the next phase of development there. The usual crush of media types came to cover the much publicized announcement (or they were looking for something to do to get them out of the newsroom for an hour or two). I signed in, got handed the media package, took some photos, looked at the media package, and left before Mayor Miller could tell the assembled throngs how great this new building is. Maybe he would have hedged his bets and just said that FILMPORT is an essential part of the city's planned economy. Whatever his take, I did not want to be there to suffer through it.

The reason for my early departure? The proposed Alsop & Quadrangle Architects "iconic landmark" is perhaps one of the most poorly considered designs I've seen since leaving the first year architecture studio at university. Don't believe me? Take a look...

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The extruded section design punched with either horizontal slots or wormy windows is reminiscent of a bad piece of "plop" sculpture - a phase many Torontonians once had to live through when art first became a required component of any development budget. Back then you could hear the collective sound of head scratching as local developers tried to figure out what public art was anyway. The plops of vaguely formed metal we still occasionally run into on major downtown streets provides a history of those awkward times. Fortunately, everyone involved got the hang of it and soon a lot of good work became part of the public realm.

In this case - FILMPORT that is - we are seeing Toronto's early struggles with architecture as art, or at least architecture as something more than utilitarian box. Certainly the bureaucrats can't be expected to know what's good and what's bad. They are too worried about the economic disaster this development looks like it will be because of the increasingly strong Canadian dollar. Does anyone else remember the financial bath Ataratiri turned out to be for the city? The timing was not right for that much hyped development just as the timing appears bad for FILMPORT. Will film production companies flock to Toronto when the Canadian dollar is on par with the U.S. dollar? One wonders. $0.65, definitely, $0.75 all right, $0.85 Saskatchewan is looking good, $0.95?

This is not a general condemnation of all Alsop's work. Far from it. But my guess is that he had something else entirely in mind until the budget was slashed.

In any case, who decided this was the building needed to showcase Toronto's film district? I predict there will be a lot of denials heard from City Hall and the Waterfront in the coming months and years. "But look at OCAD" they'll say, "how were we to know?" The good news is that we'll probably get better at using architecture to promote the city. The bad news is that somebody is going to have to pay for what increasingly is looking like another Ataratiri development scheme. And we all know who that will be.

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The entrance to FILMPORT, we are not joking.
[email this story] Posted by R Ouellette on 08/08 at 08:06 PM

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