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March 5, 2009

Moisture plagues 'impermeable' gallery

Toronto Globe and Mail
by James Bradshaw

Speaking of Frank Gehry, one upside to his not designing the Atlantic Yards project — should that come to pass — might be a considerable improvement in watertightness.

The new Frank Gehry-designed Art Gallery of Ontario, designed as an impregnable fortress against the harsh Canadian weather, is already showing chinks in its armour. Recent visitors to the newly reopened and much celebrated Toronto gallery have been shocked to find condensation fogging up and streaming down many of its outer windows, while buckets dot its famed Douglas fir central staircase, catching errant drips.

The leaks and condensation problems at the AGO have dredged up memories of a negligence lawsuit that ensnared its architect, Frank Gehry, in late 2007 after another of his designs, at MIT, became cracked, leaky and mouldy. When word of the dispute reached AGO director and CEO Matthew Teitelbaum that November, he said he was confident the newly renovated Gallery would be "impermeable" and ready for the challenging weather of downtown Toronto.

A reporter yesterday found three buckets catching water on the central stairway that wriggles its way from the second floor of Walker Court up to the fifth-floor contemporary gallery. One bucket was three quarters full and catching a steady drip. The winding flat banisters were occasionally draped with small towels absorbing drips, and in two places, a small amount of water was pooling on the banisters unattended. A series of seven portable fans were connected by extension cord and strategically placed to try to dissipate some of the condensation, but appeared to be having little effect. And duct tape can be found partially covering the vents below the windows in an attempt to increase the force of the air flowing up from them.

In recent days, the windows of the gallery's two staircases have been so fogged by condensation that they gave only a hazy, impressionistic view of the city outside, and visitors could be seen wiping them with their sleeves to see out.

Mahoney played down the alarm some have felt at stumbling across buckets, towels and duct tape in the city's primary artistic gem, saying such "rebalancing" is routine.

Meanwhile, Gehry has been struggling with more substantial and different problems on other projects. The number of staff at Gehry Partners, which has offices in Paris, Hong Kong and New York, and headquarters in Los Angeles, has been halved over the last year, and two big projects - on Grand Avenue in Los Angeles, and in Brooklyn - have been put on hold as the economy spirals downwards.


NoLandGrab: Note to the AGO — do yourselves a favor and slap some plaques on the buckets, towels and duct tape labeling them "art" created by Mr. Gehry — problem solved.

Posted by eric at March 5, 2009 10:56 AM