Has the ROM’s Crystal Conquered Toronto?

Crystal Gazing

The dazzling ROM Crystal has wowed tourists and locals since its opening in June 2007. However, despite the Crystal’s popular appeal, it has received mixed reviews from architectural critics over the last eight years.

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Many local critics, in particular, slammed the unorthodox structure when it was first unveiled. However, if I had a loonie for every time I witnessed a tourist with an SLR camera photographing the Crystal from the north side of Bloor Street, I would be happily retired in Aruba right now.

In early 2000s, an international search began for talented architects who would be part of the Renaissance ROM project. More than 50 international architectual firms competed for the job of designing the ROM’s new addition. The search ended in February 2002 when Berlin-based Studio Daniel Libeskind was chosen.

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Surprisingly, Libeskind’s brilliant design was first drafted during a family wedding he attended at the ROM. Inspired by the ROM’s minerals and gems collection, Libeskind was struck with the idea of a crystal addition to the ROM and quickly sketched the initial concept onto a few napkins taken from the ROM restaurant. In this interview, former ROM director and CEO, William Thorsell, explains why Libeskind was chosen.

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Getting the Crystal made was a challenge and required national and international collaboration:

  • Polish-born and New York-based Libeskind designed the Crystal in Berlin.
  • The steel girders were produced in Hamilton, Ontario
  • The aluminum cladding was produced in Germany
  • $30 million was donated by Jamaican-born Michael Lee-Chin, a businessman who lives in Canada

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While the Libeskind team and all involved in the project had great enthusiasm and willingness to make the Crystal one of Canada’s architectural landmarks, they received harsh criticism (which is not surprising considering other daring projects such as the Eiffel Tower was badly received by many). Critics have slammed this structure for its metal cladding claiming it looks cheap and undignified. It has also been called aggressive and in-your-face. I reject these claims and agree with Conde Nast Traveller, the magazine that called it one of the “new seven wonders of the world” in 2008. To me, the Crystal is dynamic, daring, exciting, innovative, complex, brilliant. It is an amazing feat of physics and engineering. The architectural jewel of Toronto.

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With over one million visitors annually, the ROM is a hot spot. In the summer, attractions can be seen both inside and outside of the museum, with musicians performing on the plaza every day. The Sidewalk Crusaders, a high-energy brass band, can be found playing in front of the Crystal most summer days.

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Renaissance ROM has allocated $5 million for remodelling the plaza, which will greatly enhance the exterior landscape. There is no doubt it will draw further criticism. Regardless of what they say, I’m glad that money is being invested in provincial landmarks.

A final note to all of you geniuses out there, the next time you’re struck with a brilliant idea, pull out your Sharpie and grab a napkin!

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Here are some reviews from 2007:

The Dream Life of Toronto (AndrewBlum.net)
Only Love Can Break Your Art (Rabble.ca)
Build it, and they will shun (Toronto Star)

Crystal Scatters No Light (The Globe and Mail)

What are your thoughts on the Crystal?

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3 thoughts on “Has the ROM’s Crystal Conquered Toronto?

  1. The crystal addition to the ROM is quite beautiful and breathtaking. From listening to the “interview link”, it sounds like the architect and ROM people went to considerable lengths to make the inside of the crystal quite functional also. Thanks for the pics and the story.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good article Dan. I like the shape of the building, but the finishes they used don’t seem right to me. It looks like they ran out of money at that point and opted for cheaper materials.

    Liked by 1 person

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