R.O.M. The Royal Ontario Museum

Location: Toronto, Canada
Designer: Arch. Daniel Libeskind
Project: R.O.M. Royal Ontario Museum
Photos: Sam Javanrouh, Jeff Speed
In 2002, the architect Daniel Libeskind and his studio won the competition to design the extension to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

The building is designed like the origins of crystal shapes born from sedimentation and subsequent gemmating: five self-bearing prisms are interconnected to each other and joined to the old museum building.

From an aerial view we can better understand the layout of the building, which is situated at the corner between Queen’s Park and Bloor Street: the new extension develops along a distinct axis marked by the historic museum; thanks to fast slips, the prismatic shape extends forwards to meet the front of the previous building.

The technical presentation and descriptions of the work highlight two possible interpretations: the image of the crystal and its birth on one hand, the poetic evocation of an item rising out of the desert on the other.

The building looks like a massive impressive rock rising out of the desert that gives an idea of sedimentation and accumulation of uneven layers. With this view in mind, the Museum Director, William Thorsell has decided that the museum should be extended to contain a wide variety of things: paintings, fabrics, minerals, tribal crafts, a sort of modern “Wunderkammer” (18th century German invention that created an unusual and magical atmosphere, where the wealth and variety of the unusual things on show roused great curiosity and interest in the visitors). Libeskind says that it was the sight of a special crystal on show in the collection that inspired him to sketch the future shape for the museum extension on a paper serviette.

The reticular structure of the crystal, with its minimum wear rules, represents the complex principles of nature and the stability of its geometry. The balance with nature is not at all nostalgic or mimetic however; rather the project clearly shows all the materials and principles behind the design and construction. The choice of materials is clear and fully responds to the needs of the different sectors inside the construction: steel for the self-bearing parts of the large facades, which guarantees strength, anti-break in security for the large windows, and aluminium for the cladding and non-bearing structures.

There is a single interior space: there are virtually no sharp corners, the walls are sloping and the light enters from unusual directions, a central empty heart for the building – the Spirit House – which diagonal paths cross over.

The Spirit House Chair is an integral part of the museum; it is made from stainless steel and was designed to be turned in five different directions inside the large hall which reaches up to the top of the Museum. Around forty hours were needed to make a single part (made by Nienkämper Furniture & Accessories Inc. of Toronto to a project by Daniel Libeskind) to guarantee the perfect finish to create an amazing reverberating and disappearing effect of the light that hits it.

Marina Cescon
Acciaio Arte Architettura 32