The renovation and additions to Toronto’s Gardiner Museum - Canada’s only ceramic art museum - reflect the measured approach to experimentation adopted by Bruce Kuwabara and project architect Paulo Rocha of KPMB Architects. Kuwabara’s renewal project springs from what existed before. The new building has a restrained modernity. Its elegant architectural geometries and refined exhibition spaces are a far cry from the loud glass-and-aluminium prisms of Libeskind’s 2007 extension that projects from the Royal Ontario Museum across the street.
The museum hosts George and Helen Gardiner’s ceramic collections and was opened in 1984. The original building, designed by Keith Wagland, comprised a series of stacked cubes in deliberate contrast to the adjacent early 19th century university buildings: the neo-classical Lillian Massey Building to the north, and the Victorian “Queen Anne” Annesley Hall to the south. The Gardiner Museum remake is a function of the expansion brief to provide new spaces for the permanent collection, international exhibitions, and educational and research activities.
The project has reformulated the entrance area, redeveloped the interior spatial distribution and added an entire storey containing a large temporary exhibition area, storage space, restaurant, and south-facing terraces. The institution has thus gained approximately 1600 sqm. The varied geometry of the front includes a rectangular volume on stilts that cantilevers out over the entrance area, its recessed glazed wall announcing the luminous interiors. The glazed façades behind are framed with stone slabs. Large portions of the main and south façade are shielded by tightly spaced limestone louvers set in a steel frame. The former pink granite exterior has been replaced by different size slabs of sandy-coloured limestone and polished black granite which now clad the large unbroken façades.
On the interior, the ground floor reception area has been enlarged by moving the main staircase to the northwest perimeter. Exhibition spaces have also been extended. Their open plan structure invites comparison of the works on display in their elegant new showcases. The new steel-frame top storey housing a restaurant and multipurpose room is the arrival point of the circulation route. The large exhibition room is a pillar-free area flooded with light from the full-height glazed walls and transparent ceiling. The ipê wood flooring continues on to the terraces from which interesting views of the cityscape can be had.