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One of the many clarifying pleasures expressed by the newly opened Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art is its lush belief in the time-worn refinements of the city. Not long ago, historic buildings were knocked to the ground as a matter of course, and people were urged to travel beneath the street by underground concourses. The deep satisfaction provided by the Gardiner comes in its framed views of its neighbouring buildings on the civic boulevard of Queen's Park. Standing on the third-floor terrace defined by wooden floors and a clear glass balustrade, Toronto has never looked more captivating, never imagined as something with its own ideal order.

Say goodbye to the famed terrace atop the Park Hyatt Hotel located up the street. The glass conservatory plunked over the city's beloved perch looked dated the moment the windows were set in place during an unfortunate renovation. In this city, people are coming up from underground. They're hungering to see and be seen. The new terraces at the Gardiner not only rank, they now matter most.

Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects are the designers responsible for the lustrous reinvention of the Gardiner. Theirs is a work of fine urban surgery, a strategy of inserting meaningful volumes into tight quarters accomplished recently by Bruce Kuwabara and Shirley Blumberg with deft, confident strokes for Canada's National Ballet School on Jarvis Street. For the Gardiner, KPMB has expanded the museum by mere metres to the north and lifted its original two-storey quiet volume to three. The materials are restrained -- black granite, glass and Indiana limestone to match the stone of the neoclassical Lillian Massey building to the north. But, the composition is alive and artful. A projecting bay that contains the office of museum executive director Alexandra Montgomery is scaled to work harmoniously with the projected bay window of Margaret Addison Hall, a fanciful brick building in the Queen Anne style located directly to the south.

Buildings go under the knife all of the time, but the addition of the third floor is a joyous composition of gallery space, restaurant and what will surely become the most desired intimate space for corporate and special events. The 50-seat restaurant, led by executive director Jamie Kennedy, feels warm and inviting, with the scale of somebody's elegant dining room.

How to persuade a new generation raised on cellphones and MSN instant messaging to gawp at the remarkable collections of 18th-century porcelain or Ancient American ceramics? It's a rich ambition, possibly one that should be declared hopeless. But I think not. There is much to enchant at the Gardiner, including a tea and chocolate service from the early 1700s and Marc Chagall's Vase with Two Lovers (1957). And the glass display cases, designed by KPMB in collaboration with PS Design, make the collection immediately accessible. The art education program at the Gardiner Museum is an unqualified success -- about 14,000 students participate in the museum's studios every year and learn how to make fearsome gargoyles and slap around clay in the manner of remarkable Montreal ceramicist Jean-Pierre Larocque, whose exhibition occupies the new third-floor space for temporary shows.

Maybe we've lost our ability to concentrate. Or, on a brighter note, we've come to terms with our continuous selves. But the fact is that yesterday's museums dedicated much more space to art and much less to social interaction. During the 19th century, the ratio of space-for-art to space-for-reception was 9 to 1; today, as American architect Robert Venturi once argued, only about a third of available space is used for exhibitions. The Gardiner is just part of that new configuration of space: somewhere to shop, enjoy excellent cuisine and imbibe some edifying art.

Montgomery says she hopes that the new, chic museum will attract 40 per cent more visitors. The front lobby is open and airy, with pale English oak walls, indicating the latest design interest in wood that connects us to the cerebral. All is reduced and minimal here, with no concession to the raw mangling of clay or the exquisite detailing of porcelain. The only hint at texture is the brick wall of a woman's residence next door, exposed by way of a new, generous window where once a granite staircase stood in the way.

A museum begins as a collection in need of space to appropriate. Often, what is required is the conversion of a monument. The Vatican, the Louvre and the Uffizi all started out as royal or ducal palaces. Not long ago, a Beaux Arts train station was converted into the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. The Tate Modern in London occupies what was previously the Bankside Power Station. Architects are engaged to overlay their plans over another architect. It can make for an uncomfortable situation, though the exercise is not usually about assessing blame through a redesign.

A design responds to a particular era, the obsessions of a particular client. When accomplished, the problem of the day has been solved -- at least, that's the hope.

There's no doubt in my mind that Keith Wagland's design for the Gardiner Museum, accomplished during the heyday of architecture's postmodern era, created a mild euphoria about intimate scale and the then-stylish use of pink granite. And there's irony but also comfort in knowing that Wagland taught Bruce Kuwabara during his third year at the University of Toronto's School of Architecture -- such is the way the world turns.

Buildings change over time. To recognize that the Gardiner might be recast in another 20 or 30 years is not to lament the euphoria generated by KPMB's redesign of the Gardiner Museum. Buildings are forced to change through the ages or risk having their collections slip into oblivion. Not to be noticed is what directors fear most for their museums.