For some time now, I have been ranting against “Brand Architecture”—the growing trend of treating buildings as vehicles for self-advancement. The architects who practice this sort of design impose their signature style regardless of their function or location, completely disregarding socio-economic, political and cultural concerns in the process. Now, one of the most infamous offenders in this field, Daniel Libeskind, has produced a structure free from the shackles of self-conformity—unfortunately, it may just be his greatest failure yet.
This time last year, the obtusely named L Tower topped out in downtown Toronto; now it inches toward completion, lining alongside a plethora of works by big-name architects spreading across the city in the last decade.
The L Tower before and after the redesign
Libeskind is no stranger to landmarking this part of the world; his crystalline extension to the Royal Ontario Museum caused much controversy, with an architectural language almost identical to his museums in Berlin, Denver, and now Dresden. It seems that no matter what the contents of each building may signify, Libeskind feels this universal application of personal style is permissible.
With residential and mixed-use developments, however, he has been less assured: His Citylife high-rise in Milan is a bungled attempt to translate this same language to the vertical, culminating in an ill-proportioned, inelegant misadventure. So, Libeskind took a turn away from his signature dialect with the L-Tower; as if entranced by Zaha Hadid’s forays into footwear, he sketched a 200 meter-high cowboy boot, with residential apartments in the shaft and a cultural hub in its heel and toe.
The enigmatically titled “Arts Lab” was originally planned for the lower reaches, as part of a major extension to the Sony Centre For The Performing Arts. However, funding from federal and provincial governments never materialized, and the eight-story podium was rendered redundant.
While the blame for this cannot be laid at Libeskind’s door, his new challenge was to respond dynamically to the shifting program with skill and nous. Instead, he regressed back to familiar territory: The boot was crudely amputated, its toe replaced by an entrance lobby in the guise of—yes, you guessed it—a jaunty, prism-like display of deconstructivism. Surprise!
L Tower models
The L Tower moves away from Libeskind’s usual architectural vocabulary, yet it is no less flamboyant in its formalistic nature, and no less dubious in its practical conception. It appears to have been designed entirely in profile, with no real concern for orientation in relation to solar gain. Meanwhile, the sweeping curve at its peak appears to carry no purpose, apart from providing that essential staple of vanity projects: the novel silhouette.
As a collective entity, Toronto’s skyline continues to expand, the demand for high-end residential and commercial space reigniting after the recession of 2008. Libeskind’s Tower is intended to help meet this demand, and the internal specifications will no doubt ensure that middle-class, professional tenants will be satisfied enough to part with their cash and inhabit the glittering condo. As a consequence, the developers will be happy, having made a return on their investment, and will therefore find justification in their appointment of Libeskind.
But does this equate to success for the architect? Surely not: Studio Daniel Libeskind has failed to convince that it is capable of designing on this scale—for a mixed-use, residential program: The likes of MVRDV, Herzog and De Meuron, OMA, and even relative newcomers BIG have all shown how it should be done.
Sorry to put the boot in, Daniel…
Agree? Disagree? State your case here.
The Angry Architect