With great joy for our city and nation, this week was open to the public the wonderful urban architectural complex dedicated to the promotion of Muslim culture built by the Aga Kahn Foundation, comprised of the Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre in Toronto.
Two buildings with different complementary uses, united by a minimalist landscape offer visitors a contemporary space, with open and closed areas in a privileged site; allowing the feel that the flow of natural elements like water, earth, light and air, can still be found in a prime urban location.
The Aga Khan Museum, unique in North America was conceived as an educational institution in the fields of art and Muslim culture in order to promote knowledge and understanding within their societies and other cultures. The need to reduce the increasing division and misunderstandings between cultures of the Middle East and the West was the key factor for His Highness the Aga Khan, in the decision to undertake a project of this magnitude. Canada, world leader in its commitment to welcome immigrants with different traditions and beliefs that share common values, was the country chosen by the foundation to house the museum and from there to meet the objective of deepening the understanding between different cultures, essential for peace and progress in the world. Toronto has a significant concentration of Muslims and offers a strategic location that allows reaching an audience of over 60 million people within an hour's flight.
The museum was designed by renowned Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki in a contemporary style with simple lines and sloping profile where light plays a major factor, treated with unique skylights. The first floor contains a central courtyard comprised of glass panels with Arabic patterns which figures are consistently reflected by the sun's rays. The permanent exhibition offers a number of unique pieces from different Muslim cultural manifestations showing its influence from the Middle East to North Africa and Europe. The second floor houses temporary exhibitions, including modern artists. The auditorium has a majestic dome with geometric and light shapes reminiscent of a nineteenth-century Iranian bazaar. A cozy restaurant offers delicacies from the Middle East with magnificent outdoor views.
The Ismaili Centre was designed by Charles Correa, renowned architect and planner from India. The heart of the building is a majestic glass dome with metal structure that serves as a sacred place of prayer. The building offers various meeting rooms, as well as informational and study areas to learn about their culture and religion. Large windows decorated with intricate patterns are used to separate private and public spaces and in all the cases natural light and walk out to open air terraces is a constant feature.
Lebanese landscape architect Vladimir Djurovic, joined the two buildings using a geometric composition of infinity pools aligned with a precise selection of trees, offering a state of calmness perfect to admire the vegetation and landscape that changes with the seasons. The reflection of all the elements, influenced on the Alhambra and the Taj Mahal, offers a magical visual spectacle not to be missed.
Let us seize the opportunity presented by these new spaces to awaken our intellectual curiosity and recreate our senses.
WINDS OF CHANGE IN THE ARCHITECTURAL LANDSCAPE OF TORONTO
The process of planning, designing and building defined as Architecture is taking a world class approach in the country and the Greater Toronto Area residents have seen the benefit of unique cultural and residential landmarks representing works of art that are identifying the coming of age in the 21st century of this ancient practice.
Globalization is a word that is spreading in many realms involving architecture, where sought after firms are competing worldwide to showcase their interpretation of a new cosmopolitan world extending from Shanghai to Buenos Aires in amazing shapes like never seen before.
Locally we have also been impacted by the influx of foreign architects, whose vision have changed our urban landscape with striking elements and forms that have generated a lot of controversy in an environment often filled by monotony and lack of creativity. It is good to see how new structures have been built in several places changing their character and allowing us to enjoy a more diverse streetscape.
The waking up of this movement was done at the end of the last century, when Santiago Calatrava, the brilliant Spanish architect was hired for the pedestrian passage known as Brookfield Place linking Bay to Yonge St as well as the two TD Bank towers in the heart of country’s financial district. This monumental glass and steel masterpiece, covering 16,200 square feet with 85 feet height, allows public gatherings that take advantage from world-class art exhibits. Regardless of weather conditions, even if it is -40 or +38 degrees, snowy or rainy, this marvelous space could be utilized to its full potential throughout the year with the added value of having direct underground access to Union Station.
Daniel Libeskind approach to revitalize the Royal Ontario Museum is another bold interpretation of a public landmark in one of the most exclusive neighbourhoods in the city. The five intersecting volumes, reminiscent of crystals are dedicated to new art galleries, a space for public reflection, vertical circulation named the ‘stairs of wonders” and a restaurant. This is one of those things in life that you either love or hate without any middle point. It is indeed a structure away from any traditional approach to architecture with unconventional angles, sometimes hard to assimilate.
The multicoloured checkerboard box suspended in the sky by elongated metal posts, looking like a gigantic flying eraser ready to land on top of the older main campus of the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) was a courageous and brave statement from Will Alsop, an acclaimed British Architect for the Sharp Centre for Design. The elevated structure allowed for an open space connecting Grange Park with McCaul St, which has enhanced the quality of life in the area. The box on top, serves as a conventional layout where classrooms and offices take place.
Mr. Libeskind was also awarded with a commission for a residential undertaking on top of the Sony Centre at Yonge and Front St. The L Tower named for its shape was an interesting mix of culture and residential living and the boot type of design he came up with, showcased his different approach to the way architecture is conceived today. Unfortunately due to political reasons the art centre that was supposed to be the lower part of the building was removed and the new design now has a triangular case configuration to host the building amenities.
Frank Gehry, the most famous globally recognized Canadian architect won the contest for the renovation and expansion of the Art Gallery of Ontario and contrary to his extraordinary designs in other places, in this case the exterior approach is more rational with an attractive sculptural cantilevered staircase protruding from a large titanium blue box that depending on the sunlight blends with the sky. The interior spaces are so interesting that need a full article on their own. There are two fantastic areas to explore where the architect introduced his entire artistic creativeness, one being the sculptural Walker’s Court wooden audacious staircase that brings you all the way up to the Contemporary Art section. The other is called Galleria Italia where beautifully curved wooden columns have turned into a fantastic geometrical pattern that could be seen inside out due to a dramatic glass envelope, extending 440 feet along Dundas St.
Phillipe Starck, the globally renowned French architect was responsible for the creation of the interior design of the lobby and atrium at Seventy5 Portland, a building that has great character and is well recognized within the design industry. As some of his creations, Mr. Starck through his Yoo office designed a fabulous lobby similar to the ones in his New York hotels where selected pieces of furniture are showcased in an eclectic mix. An endless communal table starts in the lobby and travels throughout the Atrium where the residents mingle and enjoy a more cohesive lifestyle.
One project that makes heads turn is the Absolute Towers, dubbed as the Marilyn Monroe Buildings due to their curvaceous forms that twist 209 degrees from top to base. This international design competition for the tallest building in a suburban North American city had 92 submissions. A panel including architects, civic leaders, developers and the public awarded the design to Yansong Ma from MAD Office – China. The whole urban skyline has been really improved and the sculptural buildings are a pleasure to look at. The design involved here included additional intricate details as the floor plans change according to the rotation of the plate. The balconies create an eerie feeling of openness.
We welcome the views of these international creators who in all the cases have teamed up with local talents and are reflecting in their fantastic work the changes of our society and show that we are also opening our doors to a kind of architecture more engaging, creative, courageous and versatile. We hope that if you still have not noticed them, this short article will give you a heads up so you can start participating of these accomplishments and will entice you to look after the ones already in the pipeline such as the Ryerson University Expansion by U.K. Will Aslop, Monde Condominiums by Israel-Canadian Moshe Safdie and a condo tower yet to be unveiled at the elegant Shops of Don Mills by Danish architect Barjke Ingels.