Good thing it was a dry summer. The new Michael Lee-Chin Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto's most talked-about new edifice, leaks.
At least, it did leak. Water penetrated the north end of the long window of the C5 restaurant, and puddles have appeared near windows on the third and fourth floors.
The ROM's CEO, William Thorsell, pushed to open the new Daniel Libeskind-designed Crystal and the rest of the renovated ROM on June 1. As construction accelerated, the contractors responsible for installing the Crystal's cladding system warned that temporary seams around windows might leak. In August, they mopped up and repaired the problems.
As winter approaches, fingers are crossed that there will be no more puddles, and that the Crystal's cladding, designed to prevent it from turning into an avalanche-maker, will function as well in cold reality as it does in theory. But it's clear, four months into the Crystal's life, the new spaces pose huge challenges, and leaks are the least of them.
Far more daunting are the problems of mounting exhibits in the strange new spaces, ensuring public safety and budgeting for the new reality.
There are rumours that the Crystal's oddly shaped, difficult-to-access windows have increased window-cleaning costs by $200,000, a figure ROM's executive director of capital development and facilities, Al Shaikoli, disputes.
"But it is considerable," he admitted. "In the old days, our window-cleaning budget was next to nothing."
Safety issues are a surprise. "We didn't predict human behaviour," Mr Shaikoli said. On the June weekend of its grand, all-night opening, ROM staffers discovered that, particularly after the bars closed, visitors seemed more interested in the Crystal as a playground than as architecture. Staff were alarmed to see people crawling out on windows slanting over Bloor Street, apparently testing their strength.
"Mind you, these galleries were naked spaces," Mr. Shaikoli said. "Once they're filled with artifacts, people will be more respectful." Display cases will soon be installed in the paths of future adventurers.
Another discovery was a trail of footprints most of the way up a fourth-floor wall that rises at a 30-degree angle. "Probably a kid took a run at it," speculates Dan Rahimi, director of gallery development. Baseboards and stainless steel barriers are being installed to signal that a wall is a wall, even if it's not on the straight and narrow.
"One of our major bugbears was that William wanted everything open and accessible," says Janet Waddington, assistant curator of paleontology. "But you can't do that - the Toronto public is extraordinarily destructive."
Even in the old dinosaur galleries, says Ms. Waddington, people used to reach across railings to pat the prosaurolophus bones. In the ROM's Crystal dinosaur gallery, two ancient marine reptile skeletons, a pleiosaur and a mosasaur, have been suspended from an overhanging face of the Crystal (the ceiling is too high), which puts their irreplaceable old bones within arm's reach. By the time the gallery opens in December, a plinth or base underneath, surrounded with barriers, will keep the public's hands at bay. "It has been horrendous," said Ms. Waddington, "but very exciting."
The problem of installing artifacts in a space with no vertical walls challenged Hiroshi Sugimoto, the first artist to be exhibited in the ROM's fourth-floor Institute for Contemporary Culture. So, he designed a curving wall 4.3 metres high and 27.5 metres long, fitted with special lighting, to counteract the angular architecture. Total cost to the ROM: about $200,000. The wall was recently removed to make room for a new show of aboriginal contemporary art that opens on Saturday.
Special new display cases have been bought to match the galleries, some with trapezoidal shapes. As well, the renovation has opened the entire building, old and new parts, to more daylight, which risks bleaching museum artifacts. So the museum has acquired special blinds that filter out 96 per cent of ultraviolet light, as well as blackout blinds that block exterior light.
"Daniel didn't design this building based on the collections," said Mr. Rahimi. "We had to design the collections to go with the building. We have an aesthetic imperative - partly because the architecture is so strong."
Denver Museum of Art
Daniel Libeskind had to have strips of the museum's titanium skin removed in April, less than six months after it opened, to repair winter water damage.
Vancouver Law Courts
A leak in the roof of Arthur Erickson's building prompted anonymous colleagues to kid him with the title Fifteen-Bucket Erickson. "Any building that has skylights, as many of mine do, is going to leak more than conventional roofs," he told a Globe reporter at the time. "All Phillip Johnston's and I.M. Pei's buildings with skylights leak. But the Bank of Canada doesn't leak, and neither does Roy Thomson Hall. The Law Courts here only had one leak last year, their first in a very long time."
Now undergoing massive repairs, Moishe Safdie's mostly glass edifice used to drip on official functions. National Gallery director Pierre Théberge once commented, "When it rains on receptions of your potential donors, it's embarrassing, to say the least."
North York Civic Centre
Adamson Associates Architects' building had a glass roof that leaked into the lobby shortly after its gala opening in 1978. Val Ross