Sunday, September 19, 2010

Vancouver Lights in Toronto

I recently travelled to Toronto, taking in the Film Festival (for
this) as well as some of the city's architectural highlights. For the sake of convenience, I'll be breaking photos down into two separate posts, roughly organized by era.

First, more recent projects (1982-2010).

Art Gallery of Ontario, redesigned by Frank Gehry, 2008. Gehry's buildings don't always work for me, however the AGO is lovely piece of architecture that serves its purpose well. The interior is bathed in wood (fir and glulam) that emanates a natural warmth. The gallery rooms hold their art well and the atrium that looks out on Dundas Street is a tranquil space to take a break and rest the eyes. As shown in the photos below, Gehry also designed a number of intriguing staircases in the building.

Addition to the Royal Ontario Museum, Daniel Libeskind, 2007. Just one photo of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal looming out over Bloor Street. A less successful addition, taking cues from Libeskind's 1999 Jewish Museum in Berlin, that feels forced and ill-considered here.

The Bata Shoe Museum, Raymond Moriyama, 1995. A handsome building that shows a largely blank, understated limestone wall to Bloor Street, with the exception of the pyramidal glass entrance. Though the building resembles the general idea of a shoe box (roughly rectangular shape with 'lid'), the subtle angularity creates a shifting visual dynamism. Exhibitions at the museum are drawn from the Bata collection of 10,000 shoes.

The TIFF Lightbox, Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects, 2010. I attended the first screening in the building–Bruce MacDonald's Trigger–and am happy to report that, from a cinema-goers perspective, the Lightbox was a pleasure. The theatre design is excellent and materials were consistent and largely subdued. The focal point of the interior is the atrium space just inside the entry that houses an elevated central control room (orange box in bottom photo). The space is clean and clear-eyed, if a touch antiseptic. However this is offset by film-related images projected on one of the large white walls. There has been criticism of the building, notably the exterior and the way it relates to the neighborhood, however it seems to fulfill its mandate admirably, as a centre for all things film. Toronto is lucky indeed.

Roy Thompson Hall, Arthur Erickson, 1982. One of Erickson's largest commissions in Toronto (along with William Carsen Centre), this hall sits in the middle of downtown and still acts as a major cultural focus. The interior was redesigned in 2002 by Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects, after complaints of sound quality issues and poor acoustics. The building features a distinctive reflective glass canopy (originally meant to be clear like Robson Square) and a sunken water feature with patio that acts as a respite from city commotion.

Next up: Part two of Vancouver Lights in Toronto, including buildings by Ron Thom, Peter Dickinson, Mies van der Rohe and John B. Parkin.

Shannon Mews Update

Busby Perkins + Will has made a formal application to rezone the Shannon Mews site from RS-6 (residential) to CD-1 (Comprehensive Development). The result would increase the FSR to 2.08 from 0.6 which is substantial in what is largely a single family dwelling district.

Here is a rendering of the corner of Granville and 57th from BP+W:

The plan calls for the retention and designation as heritage of the existing mansion, coach house and gatehouse but makes no mention of the 1971 Erickson-designed buildings on the site.

Interestingly, it was Erickson who helped save the original buildings and gardens by proposing a plan that allowed them to remain sympathetically within the 1971 plan. Ironic then, that his designs look set to be brought down to make way for the new development.

As I mentioned in a post last year, it seems like an excellent opportunity for architectural dialogue between original Italianate villa, circa-1970's West Coast Modernism and post-millennial Eco-Density development.

Though the Shannon Mews buildings are not among Erickson's most important work–they were built economically as rental units–they still display many of his characteristic trademarks: clarity of form, respect for siting, economical use of materials.

As with all rezoning applications, the City of Vancouver welcomes your feedback.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Western Living 2010 Designers of the Year

Western Living has just published its 2010 Designers of the Year issue.

Amongst the winners are Marc Boutin (Architect of the Year), Victoria Wood (Landscape Designer of the Year) and Izm (Furniture Designer of the Year).

Special mention goes to D'Arcy Jones (shown above) as the inaugural winner of the Arthur Erickson Award which celebrates the work of an emerging architect or designer.

See Western Living for a full list of winners and profiles.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Telling Details of Clifford Wiens

Just came across this volume on Clifford Wiens at the Charles H. Scott Gallery bookstore on Granville Island. It's the companion piece to an exhibition on Wiens that toured various galleries across the country in 2006-2007, including the Charles H. Scott.

I unfortunately missed the show on this important prairie modernist but the book covers his work from 1955-1995 and includes residences, offices and industrial and religious projects.

Wiens is perhaps best known for his Heating + Cooling Plant (1967, above) at the University of Regina and the Silton Summer Chapel (1969, below) in Saskatchewan. The former is an expressive work that goes well beyond the often perfunctory nature of industrial buildings and features board-marked concrete beams and a unique removable endwall glass curtain. As the architect himself comments, it is "a concrete temple to technology."

The chapel is a lesson in the strength of perceived simplicity: an open air structure, supported by glulams and tension rods that transfer forces up through the centre rather than at the corners. It's a beautiful re-imagining of religious space that maintains an essential connection to the natural world.

Telling Details is published by the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon (kudos for mounting an architectural-based exhibit) and was curated by Trevor Boddy. It includes essays by Mendel Director Vincent Varga and Clifford Wiens, who discusses the deep impact a prairie upbringing had on his architecture.

Though there are a surprising number of errata in the book, the photographs are lovely and it's nice to have something on Wiens; his work seems to have flown under the radar, likely because of its prairie setting. But it's important work and makes me wish for an expanded volume that more fully explores the subject, especially for those who missed the original exhibition.

Photographs: Clifford Wiens