The Gardiner Museum, founded in 1983, is a small museum dedicated to the art of ceramics. The original two-storey building was designed by Keith Wagland to zig-zag back from the street to protect views of an adjacent neo-classical limestone façade. By the early 1990s, the museum’s expanding collections and programs had outgrown the original building. The recessed siting further inhibited visibility from the street. The renewal was realized within a modest construction budget to resolve functional deficiencies, to create additional spaces for exhibition and gathering, and to raise the museum’s cultural profile in the city. A priority was to preserve the intimate scale for which the museum has been admired since its inception.
Siting: The Art of Mutual Accommodation
The museum sits within a tight niche bounded by two heritage buildings, both designed by George Miller: the Beaux-Arts style Lillian Massey Building to the north (1908-12), and the eclectic Jacobean style Annesley Hall to the south (1901-03). The renewal strategy amplifies Wagland’s original planning principles to respect the adjacent heritage buildings. Wagland also fortunately designed the structure to anticipate vertical expansion, which facilitated the addition of a third floor. Conceived as a steel and concrete block infill ‘building’, the addition accommodates a flexible exhibit gallery, destination restaurant, and a multipurpose space. The exterior space in front of the museum is transformed as a terraced landscape of low plantings and generous platforms.
The former pink granite cladding was stripped and the structure was re-wrapped in polished buff Indiana limestone and black granite to create a seamless composition. Limestone louvers control solar exposure from the west; the exposed ends evoke the carved volutes that grace the neo-classical capitals of the adjacent building.
Plan: Order, Light, & Views
The clarification of the plan order began by removing the stair in the lobby. Like a chess game this first move set other solutions in motion. It allowed the retail shop to be relocated at the front of the museum to make it more accessible and inviting to the public. Vertical circulation was consolidated in an elevator/stair tower on the north edge of the site. The second floor was pushed forward two metres to provide additional space for administrative functions; its flat rooftop was in turn adapted as an outdoor terrace for the third floor pavilion. The underground parking garage was excavated by 1 metre and adapted for ceramic studios, storage and conservation space. In the spaces of movement between galleries a series of floor-to-ceiling windows frame previously unimagined views of the façades and pediments of the adjacent heritage architecture, and the city beyond.
Significance: An Agent for Our Affair with the City
As one of the projects in Toronto’s Cultural Renaissance, the Gardiner renewal, together with the Royal Ontario Museum across the street and the Royal Conservatory of Music around the corner on Bloor Street West, participates in the reinvention of one of the city’s major cultural precincts. Architect Peter Prangnell once described the moon-gazing platform at the Katsura Villa as ‘an agent for our affairs with the moon’ and architecture ‘as an agent for our affairs with living’. The renewal in essence creates a series of platforms – for appreciating the art of ceramics past and present, for social gathering, for education, and for viewing the heritage context. It is ultimately an agent for our affair with the culture of the city.