Ugly buildings

November 22, 2009

I was delighted this morning to open the paper and see that the Royal Ontario Museum, which is just a few blocks from where I live, and from which I have been averting my eyes for a few years now, has been voted one of the world’s ugliest buildings!  This is truly heartening news.  The ROM was for decades housed in a grand and stately old building, but then they decided to make an “addition”.  Unfortunately, the addition resembles a crashed airplane.  It is ugly in itself, but made worse by the way it clashes with the existing building.  I am very happy to see its ugliness publicly acknowledged.

I live in an area with more than its fair share of ugly buildings.  Just a bit further away than the ROM is Graduate House (where, I confess, I used to live).  It looks like a bomb bunker wrapped (incompletely) in aluminum foil.  The positions of the windows appear to have been decided using a random number generator.  (I had one friend whose only window was about 2 ft. high and level with the floor).  The interior is even worse than the exterior.  A truly hideous structure.

A few blocks further and you find the Ontario College of Art and Design.  Their new building looks like a cross between a defective computer screen, a matchbox, and a spider.   I am now careful to never walk down the neighbouring streets without an umbrella, the better to shield my eyes from the horror.  This building is a public menace.

Anyway, the good news is that one of these buildings has today been denounced as an eyesore.  It’s a start.

13 Responses to “Ugly buildings”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    At least 2 of the buildings you mention won architectural awards (OCAD and Grad House). I wonder if architects would judge differently if they were obliged to live or work in the buildings they admire. In fact, the current trends in architecture were a factor in my decision not to pursue it as a career.

    I must confess however, that the look of the new ROM grows on me the more I see it. It’s supposed to resemble a crystal.

    And speaking of ugly buildings, you forgot to mention Robarts Library, the only university library which was designed specifically to fend off any army of fighting Uruk-Hai that has interests in stealing scholarly books. In fact the true genius of Robarts is that even if an undercover Uruk-Hai managed to infiltrate the place, he would still be unable to find any specific tome due to its being either misshelved, overdue, or locked away in one of thousands of small solitary confinement cells known as graduate carrels. Plus, he would get hopelessly lost searching for the stairwells.

  2. KathyB Says:

    that last comment was mine, forgot to leave my name.

  3. Matthew Says:

    I think the ROM would look much better if it had turned out as designed. It was supposed to be all glass so that you could see through into the original building. When they went to build it they found that they needed much more “structure” than was in the original design. I saw a news report on the high-end restaurant at the top of the crystal just before it opened. It was supposed to have grand vistas and be a see-and-be-seen kind of place. Instead, they got a convenitional box with drywall to hide the extra steel supports and a weirdly shaped bay window on one side of the room. Hardly breathtaking. I blame the architect for the problems or at least his structural engineering team for letting him propose something that was, in fact, impossible to build.

    As for OCAD, I quite like the design. I was just there a few weeks ago and I thought at the time that it complements the original building very well. You might argue with the colour scheme, but it’s the sort of place that I would both want to go study and, at the same time, be very nervous that it would fall out of the sky. It’s an art school, so you have to expect somethign less than conventional. My only regret is that they weren’t able to put the student cafe on the roof as they had originally planned.

    I think we can all agree that the renovation of the AGO turned out to be unambiguously good. My wife dislikes the spiral staircase in the main atrium–too overpowering–but we both agree that the long wood and glass Galleria Italia at the front is simply breathtaking.

  4. cburrell Says:

    I wondered who it was!

    I knew that Grad House won an architectural award (some overeducated buffoon called the huge ugly sign “the modern analogue of the collegiate bell-tower of earlier centuries”!), but I didn’t know that OCAD had suffered the same indignity. It figures.

    I know that the ROM is supposed to look like a crystal. It’s a shame the crystal looks so much like an exploding airplane. And have you been inside? If it were a large atrium, the bizarre shape might be interesting, but in fact it feels cramped, and there’s too much cold metal and dull concrete. I don’t like it at all.

    Robarts Library is in a special class all by itself. You know the convention of calling a disastrous project a “turkey”? The architect of Robarts must have had quite a sense of humour: the building actually looks like a giant turkey, complete with tail feathers, body, neck, head, and beak. It’s so strange and over the top that I confess I find it endearing. You’re right, though, about it being a terrible building for those inside it. Ugly and uncomfortable and confusing. A real turkey.

  5. Tracy S. Altman Says:

    Looking at the picture, I can’t quite decide whether the “addition” is something slowly devouring the old building, or the old building is bulldozing over the “addition.” I guess we’ll be able to tell in a hundred years or so.

  6. Matthew Says:

    My wife has always thought it looked distinctly phallic. Here’s the Street View for it:

  7. Christina A. Says:

    On the ROM – Haven’t been inside yet. My problem with it is that it looks too much like the Jewish museum in Berlin also designed by Libeskind. It was a brilliant design and I loved the museum, but I didn’t find the ROM design different enough from the exterior to think that he didn’t just repeat a previous success in completely the wrong context.

    and see the general wiki site:,_Berlin

  8. cburrell Says:

    Tracy, the addition is trying to devour the old building. It will fail.

    Matthew, that thought had never occurred to me. That interpretation fails to account for the beak and the tail feathers. I’m telling you, the building is a turkey.

  9. Nick Milne Says:

    You might be interested to read (if you haven’t already) Theodore Dalrymple’s assault on the “architect” Le Corbusier in the most recent City Journal.

  10. cburrell Says:

    Thanks for that link, Nick. Good article.

  11. […] since Jan 2007 Para-ping. Ha! Someone else who feels the same way about the clash of architectural styles (aghgrhrhrh) of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) , AND makes a great point with a Canada Day […]

  12. […] architecture.  For example, I find the building to the right to be beautiful – the author of this blog finds it ugly, saying it “resembles a crashed airplane.”  That sounds like something […]

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