ROM’s Crystal

ROM crystal

Amongst the many recent and upcoming architectural works happening around Toronto as part of the “cultural renassiance” (I don’t know about that one), the Royal Ontario Museum’s crystal has remained my favourite. I liked it during the concept (even if it invoked a little bit of the Louvre deja vu), I liked it during construction once it started to jet out over Bloor St., looming behind all the generic high-end retailers of Yorkville, and now that I’ve seen it from the inside I like it more.

After a concert and gala celebration, today (from midnight until the evening) was the free “architectural opening” of the new addition. That is a fancy way of saying “you can come inside and look at the structure, but ignore the fact that none of the exhibits are set up since we’re months behind schedule.” And much like their scheduling, their planning for the day was atrocious. It was a ticketed free event, which meant that you can get in for free so long as you got yourself a ticket in advance. Many people lined up last night, during and after the concert, to get tickets that they would use in the morning.

I was not one of those. After watching game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals, I was in no mood to venture out into that sweltering June humidity. I figured that I’d just take a chance with the morning weather instead.

After breakfast and a rather brisk walk, I was at the back side of the ROM. A hand written sign informed me “TICKETS AT BLOOR ST ENTRANCE”, so I wandered towards Bloor St. only to be greeted by a giant line. I took a spot and asked the lady in front of me if that was the line to get tickets.

“No, this is the line for those that already have tickets.”

OK. I worked my way around the line to Bloor Street and saw that there wasn’t a secondary line. Maybe the tickets were all accounted for? I went back to the end of the line, which was now further down University Avenue. “Excuse me, where do you get ticket?”

“You have to go to the back, I think. This line is for those with tickets”.

I returned to the back of the ROM, past the “TICKETS AT BLOOR ST ENTRANCE” sign and into the rear security entrance. “Where exactly do you get tickets?”

“You have to line up on Bloor Street.”

“But I was just there and they told me that it’s for ticket-holders…”

“It’s the same line.”

Back to the line I went, now ending even further down University Ave, and ignored everything and anything that anyone not wearing a “ROM” shirt said. I put my headphones back on, put the volume up and hummed along to myself Automatic crystal remote control, we come to move your soul

By the time my point in line made it to the Bloor St. corner it was clear that the ROM officials totally underestimated the turnout and that the ticket-holders line was the same as the ticket-getters line, to the dismay of all those that lined up beforehand to get them. I was glad I didn’t bother the night before.

ROM crystal interior

Once inside, the building feels a lot more welcoming than menacing. Some might decry the lack of curves or, even, the lack of 90 degree corners, but I welcome it. Walls and pillars jet out of the floors at odd angles and disappear into the ceiling, illuminated. There are windows and gaps all around through which you can see other levels and sections of the crystal, all full of activity. Once the exhibits are installed this will unify them together in the space. The light and the openness will complement them well. The current spaces in the old building feel too much like the tombs from which the pieces of its collections were taken.

Yet the crystal doesn’t forget about that old building. Inside the crystal there are signs of the old brick architecture, seemingly breaking through the white walls. Doorways and walkways seamlessly take you from one building to the other and in the central hallway it’s as if the crystal is hugging the old facade. It’s ying and yang, but as Andrew Blum writes, Like the city itself, they all connect—far more than they collide or coalesce. This building is a monument to that Toronto, and to its future.

ROM crystal interior with old building

Sure, it has its detractors, as expected, but the mood on the floor was positive. There was a lot of discovery and playfulness and when you consider that it’s going to be host to a large number of dinosaurs and, naturally, kids that’s a good sense to exude.

I’ll be posting more photos in my flickr ROM set over the next couple of days.

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