On Sept. 12, 2007, the Burj Dubai surpassed the CN Tower as the world's tallest free-standing structure. This, in the middle of the Arabian Desert, in the new, illusionary city called Dubai, United Arab Emirates. At the time of this writing, the Burj Dubai had reached a height of 598.5 metres (1,964 feet), with 158 completed floors and the promise of many more to come. That's one way to think about architecture in 2007: that it's becoming hyper iconic and super tall.
Architecture in Canada works on a smaller scale, with the potential to send significant ripples out into the community. Architects in this country have produced affordable housing that is being blended intelligently into the historic fabric and into the collective memory of the public. A church becomes a community centre to anchor an elegant housing complex by ABCP Architecture et Urbanisme for senior citizens in Montreal. In Toronto, garden roofs are being designed to feed the poor: Urban agriculture enhances the city.
With the emergence of public-private partnerships (P3s), the healing potential of hospital design has come under threat. And judging from the e-mails following my article on hospital design and Moshe Safdie's decision to resign from a commission master-planning the McGill University Health Centre, the public is outraged by the government's capitulation to developer interests.
In 2007, architects are expected to work within a strangely polarized world. True, the public understands the power of architecture. Political leaders understand that architecture - unleashed - can give even a steel city or coal-mining town a chance at reinvention. And, with Brad Pitt as chair of your jury, it's possible to watch an eco-housing development in New Orleans be designed, constructed and opened to the public, two years after Hurricane Katrina.
But otherwise, the news is not so good. Governments, private citizens and developers mistreat the profession of architecture, forcing impossible amounts of work for little pay, endorsing formulas over innovation. In 2007, architects have never been as celebrated, never as generally misunderstood.
Best New Incomplete
Building The Art Gallery of
Ontario by Frank Gehry
The Art Gallery of Ontario, designed by hometown boy Frank Gehry, isn't slated to open until next winter, but already it looks to be a winner. Thank goodness. Otherwise, it would have been a rather sad homecoming parade for the Los Angeles-based Gehry who has, until now, never built anything in Canada. Though this is hardly the site for another Bilbao - and who would want another repeat when the swirling forms are being cut-and-pasted around the world - Gehry's reinvention of the AGO is triumphant, exhilarating and warm to the touch.
There are death-defying spiral staircases on the back side of the building, and one that plunges into the historic Walker Court. At the front of the gallery, a glass sculpture gallery extends a full city block along Dundas Street. What might have added up to something heavy and monotonous has been saved by the interruption of curved timber columns.
Inside, every attempt has been made to honour craft and materiality. Expect not only masterpieces from the Thomson art collection, and naturally lit contemporary galleries, but also oak flooring, Douglas fir panels, stone, and custom-designed display cases. All of this sensitively sashayed into a downtown Victorian neighbourhood, another reason pre- and post-Gehry to admire what matters in Toronto.
Building Most Likely to Come Down in the Next 20 YearsDaniel Libeskind's Royal
Ontario Museum makeover
The Royal Ontario Museum redevelopment by Daniel Libeskind is an architectural trope designed to excite us with the violence it does to the street. It opened, 18 months behind schedule, in June. Had it been imagined for a Holocaust museum (as in Libeskind's astounding Jewish Museum Berlin), the jagged, angry outburst might have made perfect sense. But given that the ROM is beloved for its collection of gems, dinosaurs and art-deco furniture - and other bits and pieces that point to the remarkable unfolding of civilization - the outburst seems as overworked as a teenager baring all on Facebook.