ROM: A Museum Addition with Much To Say

Institutions grow out of their historic buildings as their functions and purposes change and time progresses. They will need new space. Architects design the latest trends, looking to make a mark on the world. Preservationists seek to find common ground and conversation between historic buildings and architects. Yet, architecture – old and new – remains subjective. The Royal Ontario Museum (“ROM”) in Toronto, Canada is a prime case study for this discussion.

Let’s start here:

The Royal Ontario Museum  (

The Royal Ontario Museum (“ROM”) in Toronto, Canada.

What is that?, you might ask. That is the 1912 Royal Ontario Museum building with the 2007 “Crystal” addition designed by architect Daniel Libeskind. Intriguing, yes? Take a look at more photos before we talk (and click here for the project photos from Studio Libeskind).

The view across the street.

The view across the street.

The glass facades provides interesting angles and reflections of the adjacent historic buildings.

The glass facades provides interesting angles and reflections of the adjacent buildings.

View down the street towards the entrance to the museum (via the Crystal).

View down the street towards the entrance to the museum (via the Crystal).

My first question: is that addition over the building or through the building?

My first question: is that addition over the building or through the building?

Checking out the connection on the facade.

Checking out the connection on the facade.

The Crystal peeks over the side of the building, too.

The Crystal peeks over the side of the building, too.

Still with me? It’s a crazy building, but you can’t ignore it or turn away, right? Unable to answer the question of how does the addition connect to the original building from the outside, I ventured inside. Here’s what I found:

The atrium, of sorts.

The atrium, of sorts.

I walked around to see the wall junctions. The Crystal addition creates odd shaped spaces.

I walked around to see the wall junctions. The Crystal addition creates odd shaped spaces.

Another connection view.

Another connection view.

In many places, the addition seems to be a facade for the original.

In many places, the addition seems to be a facade for the original.

The entire floor of the new building sloped towards the front door; a little disorienting for those of us accustomed to walking on generally level surfaces. After chatting with one of the employees, I learned that the building was quite controversial and does not have plumbing (it remains in the original building). Interesting. This employee indicated that the addition had a lot of political pressure behind it.

Regardless of public opinion, I want discuss, with you, the addition in terms of historic preservation (or heritage conservation as the Canadians say). Is this style of architecture appropriate for the historic 1912 museum? Is it intriguing? Atrocious? Offensive? Welcoming?

The architect’s portfolio describes the addition as this:

The entire ground level is unified into a seamless space with clarity of circulation and transparency.  The Crystal transforms the ROM’s fortress-like character, turning it into an inspired atmosphere dedicated to the resurgence of the Museum as the dynamic centre of Toronto.

The design succeeds in inviting glimpses up, down, into galleries and even from the street. The large entrance atrium, the Gloria Hyacinth Chen Court, separates the old historic building from the new, providing a nearly complete view of the restored façades of the historic buildings.   The Chen Court also serves as a venue space for all kinds of public events.

Where to start? Well, it’s interesting. It does offer glimpses of the other buildings. One street facade is restored. Still, is this an appropriate treatment of this historic building? Let’s consider what the National Parks Service and Parks Canada would say.

In the United States, we follow the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation when dealing with historically significant buildings and new additions or alterations, most notably the following two:

  • (#3) Each property will be recognized as a physical record of its time, place, and use. Changes that create a false sense of historical development, such as adding conjectural features or elements from other historic properties, will not be undertaken.
  • (#9) New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction will not destroy historic materials, features, and spatial relationships that characterize the property. The new work will be differentiated from the old and will be compatible with the historic materials, features, size, scale and proportion, and massing to protect the integrity of the property and its environment.

In Canada, the regulations are not identical, though Parks Canada has The Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada. Similar to the US Standards, Parks Canada offers this about rehabilitation:

  • (#2) Conserve the heritage value and character-defining elements when creating any new additions to an historic place or any related new construction. Make the new work physically and visually compatible with, subordinate to and distinguishable from the historic place.
  • (#3) Create any new additions or related new construction so that the essential form and integrity of a historic place will not be impaired if the new work is removed in the future.

Basically, both the US & Canada’s guidelines say that new addition should be recognizable as new and simultaneously compatible with the old and the environment. And, should the addition be removed it should not impact the historic building (presumably the historic – the more prominent building – would be the one remaining). Due to these standards and guidelines, additions are often subservient to their predecessors. Setback from the original, additions employ similar architectural features without being renditions. Sometimes they are successful. Sometimes they are boring, because – at least if they’re boring – the additions do not overpower the original. From one streetscape, the Crystal overpowers the original, wouldn’t you say?

If we’re talking personal opinion: I like it for its intriguing angles and new approach to additions (I’m tired of boring additions that look like subdued versions of the old, unless the environment calls for such a thing). Yet, after looking through the architect’s portfolio and searching for other modern buildings, this one is not as unique as I would have expected.

But, on a professional review: the addition does not comply with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. It is not visually compatible and removal would damage the building. However, is it not visually compatible because we’re not trained to read buildings with striking modern additions? Should we redefine how we look at buildings and additions? After all, there are countless style-less additions that ruin buildings. Maybe this one doesn’t ruin it so much as highlight a restored facade and engage conversation and community.

What do you think? Does it comply with the Standards? If yes, how? If no, should we look at the Standards in a new way? Or do you despise such modern architecture?

I’d love to have a discussion and hear your thoughts, so please comment below if you’d like to join.


The Carriage Museum

The second part of my visit to the Long Island Museum (first part was the Coney Island and Jones Beach exhibit) was exploring the newly renovated Carriage Museum:

The Carriage Museum houses the museum’s collection of more than 200 horse-drawn carriages, widely recognized as the finest in the United States. About 100 carriages are regularly on display, along with other rare artifacts from the carriage era. Admired for their beauty and craftsmanship, the carriages reflect an important part of America’s industrial and transportation history. The Carriage Museum also houses an authentic 19th century carriage making shop, complete with working machinery.

Long Islanders probably remember the carriage museum from elementary school field trips (fourth grade, anyone?). Today the carriage museum houses many exhibits that illustrate the evolution of carriages (that is to say horse and buggy, not baby carriage) and the importance of transportation to the development and culture of Long Island. From market wagons to stagecoaches to small peddler wagons and fire hose wagons, it makes for an interesting visit.

One of your first impressions of the carriage museum.

One of your first impressions of the carriage museum.

This map shows the growth of types of roads over the centuries.

This map shows the growth of types of roads over the centuries.

Finally something you can touch! Feel the different road surfaces used over the years.

Finally something you can touch! Feel the different road surfaces used over the years.

An actual gypsy wagon.

An actual gypsy wagon.

A child's toy wagon.

A child’s toy wagon.

Historic sleighs including a few from Vermont.

Historic sleighs including a few from Vermont.

A view inside the exhibit hall.

A view inside the exhibit hall.

If you’re interested in history, Long Island history, or transportation, you will enjoy a visit to the Long Island Museum.

A Visit to the Long Island Museum: Coney Island and Jones Beach

The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, NY is a place that most Long Island schoolchildren visit and probably know as “The Carriage Museum” or “The Stony Brook Museums.” The museum grounds have a schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, and other historic buildings that you can explore. The carriage museum is home to thousands of carriages. And the art museum hosts the rotating exhibits. Previously, I wrote about my visit to the exhibit “America’s Kitchens.”

This season (June 14-December 29) the featured exhibit was, “Coney Island and Jones Beach: Empires by the Sea.” The south shore of Long Island, Jones Beach included, is near and dear to my heart and Coney Island is on my list of places to visit, so my family headed to the museum for an educational afternoon. Unfortunately, copyright rules prohibited any photography. The following quotes are from the exhibit and the Long Island Museum exhibit page.

“If Paris is France, then Coney Island, between June and September, is the world.
George Tilyou, owner of Steeplechase Park, 1886

“You may cross the world and find no resort to compare with Jones Beach.  No other beach or playground offers so much for so little…”
Meyer Berger, writer for the New York Times, 1947

The two exhibits worked their way in opposite directions of the museum gallery, meeting in the middle. Visitors were able to choose how to begin. Historic photographs and maps, antique objects, archival video footage, and well written text carried you from the beginning of both places to the present. Highlights included vintage lifeguard uniforms, an oral history interview (video) with a man who had been a lifeguard for 60+ summers, Coney Island signage, and video of the crazy amusement rides. (Read: I wish the steeplechase ride still existed.)  Did you see the photo post of the parachute drop? It is the only structure remaining from Steeplechase Park and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Steeplechase at Coney Island. Source HABS via wikipedia. Click for link.

The Steeplechase at Coney Island. Source HABS via wikipedia. Click for link.

Coney Island has a long, winding, interesting history of politics, transportation, amusement, culture, and it’s ever changing story of use, multiple parks and reputation. Have you been? I also want to ride the Cyclone, a 1927 historic wooden roller coaster that scares the living daylights out of most people.

Need some more information about Coney Island? Check out Coney Island History and the Coney Island History Project. And here’s a good post from a Brooklyn blogger.

As for Jones Beach: it is a New York State Park that opened in 1929. At 2,400 acres, it was the first public park of its kind, almost resort like for anyone. The park opened with swimming pools, art deco bathhouses, an amphitheater, sports fields, a two-mile boardwalk – all open to the public. If you’re driving on Ocean Parkway, you know Jones Beach by the pencil shaped water tower.  In 2012, the Cultural Landscape Foundation declared the park at risk on its annual “Landslide” list due to lack of funding and a lack of comprehensive planning. The park is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

This rotating exhibit space at the Long Island Museum always puts on an enjoyable, educational show. I enjoyed learning more about Long Island, though now it has me wishing for those warm summer amusement months.

Have you been to your local museum lately? Have you learned anything new about your hometown or region?

Boston’s Waterworks Museum

What are three preservationists to do on a sweltering hot summer afternoon in Boston, MA? Even we have our limits for strolling the row house lined streets. When we could bear the heat no longer, we headed out to Chestnut Hill, just past Brookline to the (relatively) new Waterworks Museum, located at the original Chestnut Hill Reservoir and pumping station.

The Chestnut Hill Reservoir and pumping station was constructed following the realization that poor water quality was related to the spread of disease, and the fact that Boston had an inadequate water supply for its ever-growing population. The 1880s is the era of Boston’s golden age, filled with great industry, financiers, and philanthropists. With this came impressive architecture and many benefits for the public, such as this Chestnut Hill Reservoir. This station operated until 1976. The building has now been rehabilitated into a museum and event space, with adjacent buildings rehabilitated to condominiums.

The Waterworks Museum, designed by Arthur Vinal (1886) with an addition by Edmund Wheelwright in 1897.

The Waterworks Museum, designed by Arthur Vinal (1886) with an addition by Edmund Wheelwright in 1897. It shows obvious influence by Henry Hobson Richardson.

For a better photo of the entire building, see here.

Building plaque.

Building plaque.

Another view of the exterior.

Another view of the exterior.

The pumping station chimney. Look at the detail.

The  interior of the museum doesn’t feel like your typical museum. Interpretive panels, computer animated images, and artifacts guide you through the building, if you choose. Or you can work in your own flow or talk to one of the volunteers who is happy to explain how the engines work. However, the experience is about these giant machines, which stand (but do not operate) in their original location. The building is not the backdrop; it is the museum. Whether you’re a preservationist, a historian, an engineer, an architect, or someone interested in local history, the museum does a good job of offering something for everyone. The themes of this museum are public health, architecture, engineering, and social history. Here are a few interior photographs from my visit.

The heart of the museum is the Great Engines Hall.

The heart of the museum is the Great Engines Hall.

Inside the Great Engines Hall.

Inside the Great Engines Hall.

The building is a beautiful structure, filled with brass, mahogany, pine and no spec of detail overlooked.

The building is a beautiful structure, filled with brass, mahogany, pine and no spec of detail overlooked.

The Worthington steam engine.

The Worthington steam engine, one of the three in the building.

View from the overlook gallery.

View from the overlook gallery. Through the arches is the building addition.

It’s a fascinating building and a great lesson in urban and engineering history. And on a hot summer day, you can truly appreciate the technological advances of clean, fresh water. The museum is free, but donations are appreciated. Can’t get to Boston? Take a virtual tour and read the history sections on the museum website. (For any UVM HP alum – yes, this did feel like a History on the Land class with Bob McCullough! And anyone in the SIA – this is totally up your alley.)

Gold in Them Thar Hills: Part Three

SIA 2010 Overview. Part One. Part Two.

In order to not overwhelm one post with images, there will be three (or four) posts about Gold in Them Thar Hills.

So far our tour consisted of the Mollie Kathleen Mine and the Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad. The giant tour bus ventured on windy Colorado roads to Victor, CO. Victor felt more authentic than Cripple Creek; with ghost signs, tired buildings, and that western feeling (without the Hollywood effect). In Victor we all ate lunch in the park and had some time to wander around the unique & interesting Victor Lowell Thomas Museum. The museum featured local history exhibits, mining history exhibits, and furnished rooms upstairs. Our visit was short, and I would have liked more time to wander around Victor.

Ah, I loved Victor, CO.

Neat signs and buildings on the small business strip.

Victor's streetscape.

Merchant's Cafe. Great coffee, great owner with entertaining stories, great atmosphere. It totally made my day. Go there and say hi to Alex, the baker in the back. In the 1970s, Alex owned an organic bakery in Putney, VT. What a small world! Visit the website.

The tour continued just outside of Victor, but that’s an entirely different set of photographs.One more from Victor:

Another shot in Victor; the town could use a spruce (but it's still lovely!)

America’s Kitchens at the Long Island Museum

Currently at the Long Island Museum of Art, History, and Carriages (the Stony Brook Carriage Museum) is the Historic New England traveling exhibit, “America’s Kitchens.” The museum is located on Route 25A in Stony Brook, NY.  The main buildings are the art museum and the carriage museum and there is a collection of historic buildings including a blacksmith shop, a barn, a schoolhouse, and a privy.

We were most excited for the America’s Kitchens exhibit so we headed to the art museum first, where the exhibit is housed. Pictures were allowed, so here are a few.

The entrance to the exhibit.

The exhibit included a few period kitchens from historic houses and displays of changing technology such as ovens and refrigerators.

Food preservation display.

Food preservation display: barrels with sand, ice box, a 1930s refrigerator and 1950s refrigerator (both by General Electric).

1874 "Victorian" kitchen from Illinois.

Post World War II Kitchen.

An easy bake oven, 1975-1985.

We enjoyed the entire exhibit and had a good time looking at everyone, but we came out feeling like it was not thorough enough. The layout may be different in each place, but the layout here wasn’t exactly chronological. It just seemed to be too much of an overview, and we kept wanting to know more. We wanted to open the ovens and learn more about the gadgets. A few other small groups of people walked in while we were there but didn’t spend as much time as we did, so maybe we are just really into kitchens. Other visitors seemed to enjoy it as well.

After America’s Kitchens we walked around the grounds and looked into the other buildings. It was a beautiful day for strolling the grounds. We did not visit the carriage museum, though we have previously (school field trips).

Looking down the hill from the art museum.

The barn at the museum. Inside are the three bays (threshing floor, hay mow, and stalls) with many farm tools.

The school house and privy.

Inside the blacksmith shop.

The grounds at the museum with a fountain for the people and horses of New York, dated 1880.

For anyone in the area, we would recommend the entire museum. Admission prices are $9 for adults and $4 for students. It’s a beautiful place. After the museum, walk down the street to the historic grist mill, the duck pond, and Avalon Park.

Interpretation and Bias in Public Memory, Part One

A pair of posts shared by Andrew Deci, which can also be read on his personal website.

By Andrew Deci


NOTE: The following post is an excerpt/compilation of excerpts from an essay I prepared for class at the University of Mary Washington. The class, “Public Memory” was a senior seminar which explored interpretation of history and how preservation interacts with that interpretation. It was perhaps my favorite class in college. The readings were focused on two books, Sense of History by David Glassberg and New History in an Old Museum by Richard Handler and Eric Gable.

I’ve divided the essay into two portions; come back tomorrow for more ramblings on interpretation, bias, and public memory.

Each value-stricken generation has a different (or at least changing) interpretation of history, the monuments erected to history, and of how history should be thought of in the future. Although organized groups that erect monuments have a message they want conveyed, each audience member interprets that message in a different way.

Take for instance the World War I memorial in Massachusetts discussed in the book Sense of History. After World War I, the city of Orange sought a way to memorialize its sons who went off to the Great War. Many wanted the standard “triumphant arch” popular during that era that symbolized victory (and as a symbol of loyalty and patriotism). The veterans wished to have a “living memorial” installed, whereby the city would get a beneficial venue and memorialize their efforts in Europe. Eventually, the American Legion installed a cannon and a boulder that memorialized the dead and honored the pursuits of the veterans. As generations changed and American values shifted from honoring the war to learning from the war, another faction wanted to memorialize the war in a different way. Pacifists wanted a memorial that would teach the horrors of war to future generations. Eventually raising the money, they installed a monument depicting a soldier talking to a child; a symbolic monument.

As years progressed, this monument (and more importantly the square upon which it sat) took on different messages. Originally, the square and monument were created to honor the dead and proclaim victory – during the 1970s the monument stood for the horrors of war and war resistance. Residents protested the Vietnam War with the monument in the background.

So what does the monument ultimately convey? Certainly there is no right answer; just as artists do not control the meaning of the artwork, neither do the erectors of monuments. The audience’s interpretation controls the meaning and as generations change, the messages monuments deliver to us also change.

The Victorian Era produced a large number of memorials and set the framework for our modern memorialization efforts. Caught in a liminal stage in American history, the American Victorians were an ‘enlightened,’ resource-laden population that looked to the past in a very nostalgic way. In addition, the Victorians used their control of history as a tool in fending-off coming threats from abroad.

Different from other generations, the Victorians held large quantities of resources – the new industrial era had fueled the growth of an elite class with massive amounts of money. This class enjoyed philanthropy, giving away their money as a tool for establishing how wealthy they were. Nostalgia for ‘how thing were back then’ gave way to a more academic view of history – and for the preservation of sites and the building of monuments. In particular, the Victorian Age struck America at a key time: the Civil War was far-gone enough for it to be remembered as a somewhat happy experience based on valor and honor, but not so far out that personal memory was still apparent.

Mickey Mouse

Pop culture, academic or just for fun?

Or like most everything, does it depend on the context? And for the purpose of mass education, does it truly matter how academic a subject is portrayed, as long as the viewers/readers/listeners, of all ages, are learning? Pop culture is often considered the more “fun” subject, possibly because more people are familiar and therefore open to say, the hula hoops of the 1950s as opposed to pipe stems from the colonial era. Look at the Smithsonian exhibits.  Right now exhibits range from the Appalachian trail to transportation to electricity to instruments to illustrations to Julia Child’s kitchen to dresses of the First Ladies, and so much more. All of the exhibits, some ongoing, some temporary, give glimpses into the American past in more approachable ways than textbooks (for most people). Visuals, text, conversation, all of these can combine to offer a greater appreciation of American history. (Note: this is not to imply that the Smithsonian is not considered or should not be considered academic. It is meant to imply that subjects that seem “more fun” on the surface are just as educational and of academic, historical integrity. Discussions welcome.)

What does this have to do with Mickey Mouse?

Walt Disney, a brilliant cartoonist and a visionary, altered much of pop culture, everyday life, design, animation, and truly had a lasting impact on the country and the world. Walt Disney is part of our history. Walt Disney is “fun” history. Disneyland and Walt Disney World are standing testaments, albeit perhaps not exactly what Disney envisioned all along. Still, Disney World and Disneyland mean something to everyone. Cartoons, movies, family vacations, the ideal place to be, the happiest place on earth, romanticized nostalgia, everyone feels differently. Now, when discussing design and districts we sometimes compare a place to Disney World, however this often means it’s too neat and tidy and romanticized, not real.

Regardless of your feelings for Disneyland and World, it has captured the imaginations of many. Cartoons, live action movies, too, play a huge role in children’s games and adults’ memories. So, how about a Mickey Mouse museum? Where do all of those movie props, costumes, and other memorabilia go? Just as Disney has changed America, Disney has changed over time, even Mickey Mouse. An article in The New York Times, “Blowing the Pixie Dust off Disney’s Archives,” introduces readers to the Disney archives, where all of these magical elements of movies live, stored away carefully along with Walt Disney’s possessions and other things. For young and old alike, for all who love Disney, it would be quite the trip to see inside the archives.

Disney is hosting D23, an exposition featuring a fair portion of this memorabilia, however it is nothing permanent. Instead, Disney hopes to make it annual exposition, according to the New York Times. Disney lends objects to the Smithsonian and for research, but much remains unseen by the public. For some of these images, view the New York Times slideshow of Disney artifacts.

So, that’s not the museum. The museum is actually called the Walt Disney Family Museum. Located in San Fransisco, CA, it houses videos, sound, technology based exhibits, drawings of the first Mickey Mouse, and the history of the Disney Family. Visitors can attend lectures, participate in family programs, see many documentaries, and much more. See this New York Times slideshow for a sneak peek at the museum. After all, there is no reason why the study and viewing of Disney company memorabilia cannot offer incredibly insights to how America has changed since Walt Disney got his start in 1923. Attitudes about society, race, relations, entertainment, leisure, and the American family have all changed. Looking at Mickey Mouse can offer clues to our societal values. At the very least, the world is a much better place when people are continuously learning and opening their minds, deepening their knowledge, and making connections from one subject to another or from one person to another.

The museum opens October 1, 2009. Anyone going? Come back with a report!