Once visitors see the new AGO, they will have the enviable task of deciding just which architectural feature they like best.
Will it be the spectacular glass-and-Douglas-fir Galleria Italia sculpture promenade, the floating spiral staircase that connects both levels of the centre for contemporary art in the south tower, or any of the new or renovated gallery spaces that house a favourite work of art?
For many, the baroque-inspired sculptural staircase will be the most memorable design element. This iconic staircase will be named in honour of Allan Slaight and Emmanuelle Gattuso, whose extraordinary gift to the campaign made it possible.
Starting from a second-floor walkway and continuing up through the glazed roof above Walker Court, the sculptural staircase spirals dramatically as it scales the three-storey height of the new south tower. Its unique curvature juxtaposes with the boxshapes of the new tower and the existing building, creating an architectural dialogue not only between the classical and the contemporary but also between the past and the present.
The staircase’s location above Walker Court – the historic heart of the Gallery – will make navigating the AGO much easier for visitors. “It ties the building together in a dramatic and beautiful way,” says Linda Milrod, program director, Transformation AGO. “The placement of the sculptural staircase on a central axis will ensure that people always have a sense of where they are in relation to the new entrance lobby.”
As they climb the stairs, visitors will experience unique vantage points that overlook the sculptures installed in Walker Court. The staircase will also provide previews of the light-filled entranceways to the Baillie Court hosting centre on the third level of the south tower and the centre for contemporary art on the fourth and fifth levels above.
“At times people will feel quite enclosed by its walls,” notes Milrod, “but as they round a curve, the relative height of the walls will be lowered to reveal the most breathtaking views of the city – much like watching a great movie on the big screen.”
The curvilinear form of the sculptural staircase is consistent with other major elements of Frank Gehry’s design, most notably the sculpture promenade, the cantilevered and emergency staircases of the new south tower, and the serpentine ramp in the Gallery’s new entrance.
Although the staircase is grand in scale, its circulation route is both narrow and humanly scaled to encourage casual meetings between visitors. “It’s how Gehry envisions people using the building,” says Milrod. “It’s about social interaction while surrounded by art.”
When he first unveiled his design plans, Gehry described the sculptural staircase as a space where people might bump into each other and perhaps even fall in love.
They aren’t Art Gallery of Ontario employees, nor do they work with any of the talented teams of tradespeople constructing our new building. However, they may have the best perspective on the spectacular transformation taking place at 317 Dundas Street West.
Each day, hundreds of Toronto’s most eclectic residents gather in Grange Park behind the AGO to practice Tai Chi, walk their dogs, toss around a Frisbee or eat lunch on a picnic table.
These Grange Park regulars, who have witnessed the Gallery’s ongoing transformation first-hand over the past few years, shared their thoughts on the impact they believe Transformation AGO will have on the local community.
“I think it’s cool,” says Jordan Greenstein, an animator who has been working at a local studio for four years. “At first I thought the building was kind of monolithic, but with its transparency and the finishes going on now, I think it complements the scale of its surroundings. I think the neighbourhood is lucky to have buildings like the OCAD and the AGO.”
Martin Erondo also works near Grange Park and has been eating lunch there for the past two years. Martin says the new building “looks quite elegant,” and he especially likes the large windows that offer views into the new centre for contemporary art. “Transformation AGO is very good for the community. When it’s completed, I think people will be drawn to this neighbourhood much more than before.”
Jane Todd works in public affairs at a local attraction. She is impressed that the height of the building doesn’t overwhelm its surroundings. “I think it’s going to look really good when it’s completed, and it’s great that all of this new space is being created to display art.”
When asked about the overall transformation, Jane says she’s very optimistic. “There’s a good balance in the design between boldness and simplicity, and I particularly like the way the Dundas Street facade is coming together.”
James Clarke and Tim Barber have been walking their dogs in Grange Park for years, and look forward to visiting a new Art Gallery of Ontario in 2008. “I think it’s just what the AGO needs,” James replied when asked about the project. “It will be bigger and better, but not too big. It’s great for the community, and apart from some additional traffic, it’s been a relatively painless process for us living in the neighbourhood.”
Tim agrees. “I’ve worked in construction and I’m impressed by just how quiet the site is and how quickly it’s going up. I enjoy chatting with tradespeople about the project and they’re always willing to take a minute to talk about the work they’re doing. I think they’re as impressed by Transformation AGO as everyone else.”
Beverley Carret, AGO’s manager of government and community relations, works to ensure the Gallery remains sensitive to the concerns of the local community. “Our neighbours have been great during the construction period. We are in a residential area so we do our utmost to minimize the impact on those living around us. It’s a big project though, and there’s bound to be some dust and noise. For the most part, our neighbours have been very understanding and I’m very happy to learn that our efforts are paying off.”
A woman who practices Tai Chi in the park every morning, but asked to remain anonymous, had this to say about the project: “We have always enjoyed doing exercises here because the Grange House is a source of very positive energy. We hope that this positivity will remain when the construction is complete.”
Judging by the responses of the people who are most closely connected to the Gallery and the local community, it appears as if the positive energy will be flowing in Grange Park for a long time to come.
When the Art Gallery of Ontario reopens in 2008, visitors will experience more than 100 galleries showcasing spectacular collections of art. The Frank Gehry redesign will ensure that visitors are also dazzled by the extraordinary architecture as they navigate the transformed building.
From the elegant, serpentine ramp and information desk in George Weston Hall to the magnificent, light-filled Galleria Italia sculpture promenade, and on up the staircase that soars from Walker Court to the south tower, circulation routes in the new AGO promise to enrich people’s encounters with art.
Unique among the more prominent curvilinear features of the overall design, the bi-sectioned central staircase – or scissor staircase, as it is more commonly known – reflects the classicism of the AGO’s architectural roots while complementing the gallery spaces that surround it.
Clad in vertical-grain Douglas fir, a signature material in Frank Gehry’s architecture, the scissor staircase connects the past and present both physically and metaphorically with a delicate ribbon of wood that extends up from the concourse level to and along second-level walkways bordering Walker Court.
Each intersecting portion of the scissor staircase will be named for the generous donors whose gifts have made it such a significant feature of the new AGO.
Grand in scale without imposing on surrounding spaces, the scissor staircase will be immediately visible to guests as they pass through the Gallery’s Dundas Street entrance, the primary means of accessing the new AGO gallery spaces.
Because of its position directly beneath the glazed roof over Walker Court, the scissor staircase will be bathed in natural light.
“With all of the sunshine filtering down, it will be illuminated like a beacon,” says Mike Mahoney, senior project manager of construction for Transformation AGO. “Visitors will have no problem finding this central orienting feature of the new building.”
Taking the Stairs
The scissor staircase will provide easy access to the three levels in the north section of the building, while offering impressive views into Walker Court and the gallery spaces below.
Visitors who walk down one floor below street level will emerge in the magnificent new Thomson Ship Model Gallery, where display fixtures will echo the nautical themes of the space.
Heading north on the second level brings visitors into the hub space for the Canadian galleries. From here they will have access to African Art, the Henry Moore Sculpture Centre, Galleria Italia, and the Sam and Ayala Zacks Pavilion for special exhibitions.
Those who venture south along the walkway over Walker Court will have access to a sculptural staircase leading to the Baillie Court public event space and its panoramic views of the city, as well as to the outstanding collections of the new centre for contemporary art above.
ew and expanded art collections combined with the dramatic design by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry will be huge draws for people who come to the AGO in 2008. As they explore their AGO and become acclimatized to the new home of their favourite artworks, they will also grow to appreciate the effort that has gone into facilitating and enhancing their exploration of the Gallery.
Some say that joy is in the journey and not the destination. At a transformed AGO, we are striving to make the journey and the destination equally enjoyable.
Transformation AGO has captured the imagination of Torontonians. Throughout the city and beyond, eagerness is building for the day the Gallery will reopen and welcome its visitors to a magnificent convergence of art, architecture and new ideas.
Nowhere is this anticipation more pronounced than in the local community. During the closure period, the Gallery’s neighbours have been very supportive of its renewal project. They understand that Transformation AGO represents a major revitalization for the city and province, and for their neighbourhood in particular.
One sunny spring day a few local business owners were kind enough to share some thoughts on what Transformation AGO means to them.
“I think the impact is going to be massive,” says Fred Gold, president of Aboveground Art Supplies. “So many people, art lovers and otherwise, are going to flock to this area to take in the Frank Gehry redesign. As a local business owner, that makes me very excited.”
The sentiment is echoed by Raj Maru, owner of Mangiacake Panini Shoppe. “I can hardly wait for the big day,” he says. “I expect that hundreds of thousands of people will visit in the first months after the Gallery reopens. I know the AGO is going to have a fabulous new café and fine dining restaurant, but this area has so many diverse places to eat, including mine, so there will be something for everybody.”
As excited as the Gallery’s neighbours are about the prospects for their own businesses, it’s clear that they’re equally impressed with the architectural marvel that’s being gradually revealed each day.
“I have a bit of a bias because I’ve been lucky enough to watch it evolve,” says Steven Petroff, director of the Petroff Gallery. “But I’m taken most by the façade that extends along Dundas Street. It has this gentle, sinuous grace that unifies the building with the street. I particularly like the transparency of the raised walkway and the use of wood from British Columbia – it gives the structure a distinctly Canadian voice.”
Fred Gold adds that “The Gehry design is fantastic. I’m particularly fond of the sculpted lengths of wood that frame the ‘tear’ in the glass façade at McCaul Street. It’s so beautiful! I’m also very enthusiastic about the titanium tower overlooking Grange Park.”
Raj Maru is delighted most by the curvature of the glazed front façade. “It’s so welcoming,” he says. “I deliver food to construction workers all the time. I know that people who have never even heard of the Art Gallery of Ontario are going to walk or drive by and decide to go inside just to experience the building. I’d love to see their reactions when they take in the spectacular collections of art.”
When asked what their customers think about the transforming AGO, answers were almost identical. “Everyone can hardly wait for the Gallery to open to experience the new installations of the collection and upcoming exhibitions,” concludes Petroff.
Construction on the AGO’s Centre for Contemporary Art, which will occupy the top two floors of the Gallery’s south tower, is now complete. Some artworks have already been moved into this space and AGO crews are busily working to install these galleries. The south tower has an innovative art hoist that can lift large works from ground floor up to the top level through an opening in each floor.
When fully installed, the Centre for Contemporary Art will house approximately 235 works from 1960 to current day. The centre will also provide panoramic north and south views of the city, particularly neighbouring Grange Park. A unique architectural feature which is nearing completion will be the Gehry-designed “barnacle staircase”– an enclosed circular staircase constructed on the exterior of the south facade connecting the two floors of the centre. This remarkable element was developed in direct response to recommendations from artists that the 4th and 5th floor be visibly connected.