Founded in 1912, the ROM is the largest museum in Canada for world culture and natural history. It has maintained close relations with the university throughout its history and became an independent institution in 1968.
The architecture style of the original building and eastern wing is Italianate Neo-Romanesque. Opened in 1933, the eastern wing facing Queen's Park included the Museum's elaborate art deco, Byzantine-inspired rotunda and a new main entrance.
First opened in 2007, the Crystal, the deconstructivist crystalline-form front, was designed by Daniel Libeskind and was controversial. Public opinion was divided on its merits.
I had my reservations about seeing the Crystal, the ROM’s newest extension. Not all architects are sensitive when altering or adding to buildings. When visiting Toronto after The Crystal’s opening in 2007, I was intrigued, and really liked what the Libeskind had done. Not all new architecture sits well with older styles, but this combination worked for me.
I was presented, as a photographer, with a very linear and geometric architecture that also reflected the world back to you, but allowed you to see into the Museum at the same time.
What I found interesting was the overall aim of the Crystal - to provide openness and accessibility. It seems to seek to blur the lines between the threshold between the public area of the street and the more private area of the building.
Because of the sun’s shadows and the grey and glass of the building, I felt the building lent itself to being photographed in B&W film. Initially, I was annoyed that you could see the reflections of the bustling Toronto street behind me in the windows. I was seeking something a look more calm – and wanted to see more of what was going on in the building.
However, the reflections grew on me. I showed the photos to some of my friends, who really liked reflections. They could see everyday life surrounding the building and it gave the Museum context.
It made me realise that the line between public and private wasn’t as demarcated as I had assumed, or sometimes liked. It’s often very difficult to know where the line is.
The geometric lines of The Crystal are often deceiving as it gives a sense of structure and order – where underneath it, the boundaries between private and public are much more fluid and fudged. It allowed visitors to get beneath the skin of the Museum and explore the exhibitions held within it as well as appreciating the world outside it.