So, drinking late again, finished some work again, feeling bereft again.
So why not fulfill one of my promises and talk ARCHITECTURE? I mean, as long as I am alienating everyone.
O let’s get started, this is gonna be fun! O yes it will, dammit. Shut up and sit down.
Way back in college, I first saw Frank Gehry’s work with his own house, a drastic remodeling of a bungalow in California; it became an icon it what came to be known as Deconstructivism. But like other isms, it was more a label than an actual description.
I like his house. It was inventive, and economical, and explored the ideas of working n and around an existing structure. It was cool and hip and kind of weird. And obviously designed by a whackaloon. So of course I felt a kinship.
But he eventually made it to Starchitect status, and from what I’ve seen (I will admit here that I have not visited in person the buildings I rip on; feel free to donate to my travel fund so I can be better informed) his work turns into various permutations of crumple titanium-foil buildings. My analysis of pictures and pland indicate that there is an intriguing interweaving of the three dimensional aspects of the building with the program; but the buildings are also notorious for leaking and other functional failures.
I may only be a second-rate midwestern small-time architect, but I find Frank Lloyd Wrights’ response to clients complaints about leaking ceilings – “that’s how you can tell it’s a roof”- to be facetious and annoying to someone who just wants a functional building. I am firmly in the camp that aesthetics are an important element for the built environment, but if the buildings don’t fulfill the basic functions of habitation, then the failure is as stark as if the thing fell down.
You can tell that I grew disdainful of the Gehry work. You should also be aware, that as architects get famous and largely successful, they perforce add in a substantial support staff who are charged with working, dancing, drawing to the Master’s whims; the easiest way to get along is to be good at aping the Artist’s style; understanding of the underlying theory becomes faint at best.
Hey, can you tell I am bitter and dismissive of my betters? O yes. And not deservedly; I have had projects leak like a bladder infection also. Every architect has, although few are drunk enough to admit it. But at least ome of us take it serisouly enough to pay large amounts of attention to avoiding it. [ side note. I worked with a good friend of mine, who had spent time working for a forensic engineering firm in analyzing building failures, and he taught me tremendous amounts of how to make buildings not suck so much].
OK so let’s sum up our preview, shall we?
- I am not especially a big fan of Gehry’s big-time work.
- I like modern architecture
- I also have a deep fondness for old and historic buildings
- Although I do not necessarily think aping historic images is the best way of dealing with it.
- And that I think buildings have to function.
So, when we went to the Art Gallery of Ontario, I was skeptical, knowing that the big remodel. addition is Gehry work. Fuck, the attached restaurant is named “Frank”. Fuck that ego, dude.
The new entry is along the whole norther street, and the promenade is covered by a curving, arcing glass upper portion that hits me in my sweet spot. I love arcing, curving, and transforming figures like that. And coming in the front door, there is an intriguing, question mark-shaped ramp leading up to the kiosks; clad in smooth cherry-ish wood, it also hits me in a sweet spot. I do think there is not enough friendly quirkiness in our built environment.
We took a tour, and the docent told us that Gehry spent some of his childhood in Toronto. She also mentioned that the biggest donors to the museum had a strong interest in seeing their infatuation with boats and ships to be represented, and I can see where that Gehry’s impulses were restrained, maybe forcefully. I ha e long thought that architect’s best works are almost always done when the architect lives within constraints, not when the budget is open.
And this is one such.
Gehry was forced, ostensibly, to maintain a classical atrium in the middle of the block, and he responded by sliding those cherrywood panels behind the arched openings, and then inserting a coiled stair in the same wood climbing through the space. It is one of those collisions of dissimilar things that just plain works, like Run-DMC with Aerosmith.
The overall building and internal circulation is a well done melding of the succession of museum spaces, and the circulation brings you through galleries, and then through architectural elements, and then back through the art. The art is not distracted from, and the architecture crops up at intriguing places.
And then you wind up in this space:
O my. I find that just lovely and compelling.
I am of the opinion that Gehry’s personal connection to the city inspired a more considerate, maybe personally involved, approach to this project that makes it so much more satisfying than others his firm has done [ FWIW, i also asked the docent about leaks, and received an evasive response). The museum board made him abandon the crumpled-titanium knee-jerk building. Although he did manage to use titanium siding on the south additions, anodized in an attractive blue.
I recognize that I respond to the detailing in that grand space, because I have done similar; but hey, I don’t think I need to apologize for liking architects that work veins that I have also found to be rewarding….
In the end, this building has made me reconsider my opinion of Frank Gehry. The building and addition had its own character, but it never overwhelmed the museum displays. It was a fine balance of those aspects, and the necessary functions were not only accommodated, but the whole experience was elevated.
Here’s some few photos, but I encourage you to visit and see for yourself.