Viewpoint (May 01, 2002)

The Governor General’s Medals for Architecture (the GGs) constitute the highest architectural honour in Canada (see page 23). According to Jury Chair Donald McKay, this year’s winners represent “responsible, modest, market-based buildings… projects that excel within the constraints of their circumstances.” In other words, this year’s GG recipients reinforce certain characteristics often regarded as quintessentially Canadian: sensitivity to context, modesty of means, absence of extravagance. Many of these same qualities characterized the winners of our most recent Canadian Architect Awards of Excellence (see December 2001), suggesting a clear underlying theme in contemporary Canadian architecture, one at odds with the flamboyant, exuberant architecture that has captured the international public imagination.

This may be about to change. Toronto is poised to receive an influx of major cultural projects designed by celebrated international architects. Not since Viljo Revell’s City Hall, Mies van der Rohe’s Toronto-Dominion Centre and I.M. Pei’s Commerce Court have international architects been invited to contribute significant projects to Canada’s largest city. This has elicited a mixed reaction from Toronto architects, raising concerns about the impact of this work on local practices. The skeptics have reacted to the recent withdrawal from local projects of two superstars, Santiago Calatrava (Ryerson University) and Rem Koolhaas (Downsview Park) with suggestions that introducing architects of international stature to a culture of tight budgets, breakneck schedules and skittish clients makes for poor marriages. Proponents of the current wave of world-renowned practitioners are determined to prove this perception wrong.

On the heels of the University of Toronto’s Graduate House, designed by Morphosis of Los Angeles in joint venture with Toronto’s Teeple Architects Inc., the list of upcoming projects includes such high-profile architects as Frank Gehry (Art Gallery of Ontario), Will Alsop (Ontario College of Art and Design) and Norman Foster (the Pharmacy building at the University of Toronto). While each of these is noteworthy, none has attracted the kind of attention generated by the proposal for the extension to the Royal Ontario Museum by Studio Daniel Libeskind of Berlin with Bregman + Hamann Architects of Toronto. If the GG winners represent the deferential values of Canadian architecture–respectful contextualism and modest formal strategies–Libeskind’s ROM design, “The Crystal,” an audacious crystalline form jutting out from between the museum’s historic wings, challenges them with unapologetic boldness, formal excitement and an explicit desire to “wow,” to paraphrase the architect. Consequently, some welcome Libeskind’s proposal as a breath of fresh air, while others question its appropriateness to its function and context. In this issue, Lisa Rochon and John Bentley Mays examine the ROM proposal’s complex role as an architectural project and a media phenomenon (see page 32).

Finally, we are pleased to announce that the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) has selected Canadian Architect to act as the Institute’s Journal of Record, bringing together two of our profession’s national voices. While both Canadian Architect and the RAIC will retain editorial independence, the Institute will publish a quarterly newsletter within the pages of this magazine (see page 17). Both parties see this partnership as an opportunity to unify and strengthen the profession at the national level, allowing the RAIC to reach beyond its current membership with news of important initiatives such as the National Architectural Policy and Architects in Schools. We are delighted to welcome the RAIC to the pages of Canadian Architect, and we look forward to a successful partnership. Marco Polo