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2005 03 31
Frank Gehry’s Connection to Toronto
imageThe other day I was driving home. It was snowing. I needed to phone Frank (Gehry) so I picked up the cell phone, called him in Los Angeles and told him, “it’s snowing so I may lose you and if I do I’ll phone you right back.”
He said, “Oh, it’s snowing?”
“Yes, and it’s a bit dark,” I said.
“It’s late in the afternoon?”
“Yes.”
“Are you driving by my grandmother’s house?”
“I’m driving along Beverley Street now.”
“Oh my god.”
“Frank, does that make you nostalgic?”
“It absolutely does.”

I know I’ll often be reminded of this conversation because I believe that a “sense of a place” is an ingredient of great architecture. Some people think you can build a great building anywhere. But knowing how a building relates to its site, its neighbourhood, is a key ingredient to creating a great structure.

We’re building the new Art Gallery of Ontario in a place that Frank Gehry knows well. The last time he was in Toronto, he walked through the park and it was snowing. He was 15 minutes late for a meeting with the project team because he didn’t just walk through the park, he walked around the park. And he said he loved every moment. Someone who has that experience has a very intense and very direct response to what the building is going to look like. This is part of who he is, someone who is thinking about how to translate that feeling about the site into a building. It’s not just an expression of the internal needs of the building, but also how the building acts as a “good neighbour.”

For example, from the beginning, Frank has always talked about the old Victorian buildings on the north side of Dundas Street: how much he loves them, how they remind him of the time he lived here in Toronto as a young boy. And in his most recent design iteration, the curved glass promenade on the front façade bends as it starts to rise, right at the point of the height of the buildings on the north side. That was a purposeful design because Frank wanted the reflection of the sky and building to have the effect, optically, of bringing the AGO down a bit and therefore aligning it with the buildings across the street. He was thinking of the building across the way because he lives the buildings across the way. They were across the street from his art gallery in 1942 when he walked through the door. That sense of the neighbourhood is an ingredient for great architecture, and it tells me that our building is going to have a special quality.

Image © Gehry International Architects, Inc.
[email this story] Posted by Matthew Teitelbaum / AGO on 03/31 at 10:07 AM

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