Gehry’s New Clothes

5a– by Yu Xiaole –

Frank Gehry recently showed off his proposal for a cluster of three towers in his hometown, Toronto. The site used to be the location of several old warehouses and a theatre which will be demolished to make way for these new skyscrapers. Located in King Street west in the central entertainment district, these 82 – 86 storey structures are predominantly condominium (apartment) blocks but are also intended to house art galleries and a learning centre for OCAD University’s art history and Curatorial courses.

The design continues Gehry’s “style” of De-constructivism which certainly provides a strong architectural language. These progressively undressed buildings – a centrally clothed tower with two naked towers on either side – look unfinished on the top. The ribbon-like cladding of the three residential towers creates an asymmetrical feeling and variously curving surfaces.

Gehry has said that he likes that this project houses the arts and described the podium and its landscaped rooftop terraces as blending the height of the towers with the city’s human scale. “We hope to deliver a street scale that is evocative of old Toronto,” he said. “With this project, I wanted to create buildings that were good neighbors to the surrounding buildings and that respected the rich and diverse history of the area. I also wanted to make nice places for the people who live in and visit the buildings.”

To add to what Gehry calls the project’s “Toronto DNA”, he has combined his own experience of living in that district and has come up with the idea of a white glass exterior veil combined with vertical, horizontal and diagonal wooden beams at the base of the blocks. These are, says Gehry, a reminder of the historic interiors of the original (demolished) warehouses.

6However, I query this abstract symbolism. As far as I am concerned, unless it is expressly pointed out (which it is, in every press statement), it is well-nigh impossible to connect these wood beams with a memory of an industrial history… an industrial heritage that has been demolished to make way for this abstract memory. It is some terrible post-modern Catch 22. Without such announcements, only the designers or those people who are familiar with the old functions of the site, might recognize the relationship between the two.

It can be defined that there was a huge jump from the first to the recent proposal in spite of the flesh can not be found from the outside and the color which were the same. Gehry himself described the proposal as the sculptures that people can live in. The ‘cloud like’ exterior contains more detail than the previous.

The overall proposal seems to engrave the name Frank Gehry in the design: a self-referential treatment that seems to hint at Gehry’s stylistic sameness. However, copying from his old oeuvre and using it again and again over time cannot be healthy. Furthermore, it cannot be suggested to be adding depth and character to the new buildings.

In terms of the context, the new proposal actually challenges the surrounding area. It tears across the skyline. From my view, the central and the left building is from the same system, I am quite not sure about the right one especially the exposed top section. It seems a bit too chaotic in the whole system.

2Wasting resources in these functionless forms is a common criticism of Frank Gehry’s work. However, for these three skyscrapers, wasting much construction material means plenty of money, manpower as well as time. In addition, maintenance is a tough question, who would like to clean these irregular surfaces?

With so many disagreements in the world of architecture and design, bold new ideas for skyscrapers are important. To that end, this project moves away from traditional – and safe – ways of expressing tallness and “tower-ness” using transparent, smooth surfaces, etc. Peter Kofman of the developer Projectcore said that this scheme is an “evolving story” and an interesting chance to design great architecture.

Admittedly, the designs are evolving – not least because of criticism of the original designs – but the developer’s claim that these will be “three sculptures for people to live in” is problematic precisely because eliding art and architecture creates confusion, tension and contradiction. At the moment, the towers look like three stages of an Emperor progressively losing his clothes.