Here We AGO Again

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Frank Gehry’s plans for a new addition to the AGO © Gehry International, Architects, Inc.

In late January, The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) unveiled plans for a Frank Gehry-designed building that will expand the total space of the museum by 20 percent or 190,000 square feet over its present 486,000. Gehry’s $194.8 million scheme is part of Transformation AGO, a $500 million initiative to invigorate the institution with new art, a new building, and a new push for greater public visibility. Groundbreaking is scheduled for early 2005 with completion by 2007.

Having grown up within walking distance of the gallery, Gehry says that he wanted to create “something which reflects Toronto and embraces the neighborhood.” Sweeping across the new building, a massive yet gossamer structure, is a 600-foot-long stretch of canted glass and titanium-tinted panels that hang over an expansive arcade. Gehry’s addition will join the conglomeration of 11 buildings that make up the AGO, including an 1820 brick residence bequeathed to the gallery in 1911. Rising off center, the new addition will be partially sheathed in Gehry’s signature metallic panels. The southern face of the building will sport a 140-foot-high unbroken facade of glass.

Inside, the new AGO will house a dramatic corkscrew spiral walkway that wends its way through internal arches built in 1925. The walkway, which evokes Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim in New York with its continuous helix that expands as it coils around a spatial well, twists up to the fourth floor of a light-flooded glass atrium. This architectural feature bridges traditional and modern, without compromising the integrity of the existing structure.

Grand spiral staircase © Gehry International, Architects, Inc.

Gehry collaborated with the gallery’s design team with to pioneer some innovative management ideas: Transparent storage and conservation areas offer the public insight into aspects of museum operations normally hidden; media and distance learning labs provide information relating to the collections; and work by emerging artists will be showcased in a 750-square-foot, admission-free contemporary art space. The new building will also host a new restaurant, gallery shop, visitor center, and member lounge.

Bolstered as well by a recent contribution of over 10,000 works of art by philanthropist Kenneth Thompson, the AGO is on track to reassert itself as a world-class cultural institution.