The centenary of Canada’s largest museum is a great time to reflect on a century of changing architectural tastes, from historic to flashy.
Like its collection, the architecture of the Royal Ontario Museum covers a lot of ground. In the decades between the opening of the original west wing on March 19, 1914 and the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal in 2007, the ROM has both documented history and made it.
Though many tend to think of the museum as a single architectural entity, the ROM is actually an ensemble, an organic series of buildings, each one a product of its time and place, and each one connected to the others.
The story of the architecture of the ROM is also the story of Canadian culture, if not, as the institutional motto puts it, “through the ages,” at least for the last century. For architecture, that 100 years was a period of enormous upheaval.
When the museum was incorporated in 1912, the modern movement, which gave birth to the world we inhabit, was barely out of the womb. Though Ludwig Mies van der Rohe would be designing glass towers by the early 1920s, architects were generally content to recycle the past. They worked in a constantly shifting series of revival styles, each more elaborate and fanciful than the next. Gothic, Romanesque, Classical, Georgian, Second Empire were used and reused regularly.