I’m hoping it’s going to be a sofa


Seriously – what could go better with a kitsch table like that, than a nice old comfy sofa?

Curious view you don’t easily (and won’t again) see, here. The big blue box at left is part of Frank Gehry’s AGO redesign – which notoriously refuses to look at the tabletop (no facing windows) – instead, playing that classic “I can’t see you” game, of juvenile (but effective) one-upmanship.

The structure at right is officially the Sharp Centre for Design – more commonly, “The Tabletop” – and there is no question that the design is indeed innovative – there are however, many questions as to why.

Naturally, when you’re trying something innovative (like suspending a huge building on giant steel legs, for some mysterious reason) you end up with cost overruns on the really ‘innovative’ bit – the legs, in this case, which went far over budget, which meant the interior and finishes were pared way back, to compensate (there’s precedent here – the Sydney Opera House suffered the same way – delaying the final finishing of the interior for decades – though I’d argue their final results were rather less ambiguous than this).

And again like many such innovative glory seeking projects, the institution found that it needed vastly more (vastly less expensive) floor space, very soon after this prestige build.

My own first question upon seeing the new building rather rudely straddling the familiar old structure (and blocking the clever angled roof-lighting which its upper floor studios used to enjoy), was – did anyone tell the designer of this thing that it was going to be built in Canada?

Admittedly, Buckminster Fuller is still not a universal touchstone (sadly) but he pointed out very sensibly that since heat-loss is directly proportional to wind-drag, there is no such thing as a rational building design, which does not take it’s specific wind-interaction very seriously (he suggested wind-tunnel studies, as an essential part of ecologically efficient design – almost a century ago!).

Making the bottom of a building also lose heat to the open air (and failing to design to take advantage of that heat already being lost through the roof of the structure below) is just plain weird, thermally speaking – double-wastage. But it’s actually even worse than that – because the slot between the two buildings is set up just right to create the Bernoulli effect – increasing the velocity of the air between, the heat-loss, and even creating the potential for aerodynamic lift, on the upper building.

Might sound like a good thing (lessen the load taken by the legs) but of course what you want in engineering is to make your loads as stable and consistent as possible. Wild variations create destructive stress potentials.

I wonder whether this is why the concrete floors are already so badly cracked.

Above above (great art-supply store – btw)

No wait – I have a different, much funnier theory to explain those cracks – and it was actually the reason that I wanted to write about this curious building in the first place.

I did my very first gig as a professional art-model in room 617 here, for the great Bob Berger – and right from that very first sitting, I couldn’t help noticing something which, once again, like the point about its Canadian situation, felt like it ought to have been mentioned to the architect at a considerably earlier date.

What do you get when you put a great big hollow rectangular parallelepiped up on thin rigid legs? You get a wonderful resonant sound-box! And what happens if you also task the skin (roof) of that box with carrying all of the HVAC equipment such a building needs? Why, you get a musical instrument, capable of some real boffo ELF (extremely low frequency) notes! Think: the ‘big pipe’ at St Paul’s

I am unusual for offering students an expression, even on extended all day poses. Most models relax their faces, which is easier – but I draw too, and know it’s more interesting if you have some facial muscle tension to play with.

I have used a number of mental devices over the years, to sustain this smile – starting with the same mind-over-body stuff I first learned through practising old style Kundalini yoga, way back in the eighties. Often, the day is funny, or the students are saying funny stuff, or the teacher is playing funny music.  I’ll take such fresh offerings gratefully, every time.

If those don’t work or just ‘aren’t happening’, I amuse myself working on poetry, essays or jokes in my head, or else thinking about how every person working in every single institution I know, would run it very differently from the way they are forced to work in it, and playfully consider mental variations of the kind of art-school utopias they might design, given half a chance.

But if all else fails, the coffee is starting to wear off, last night’s editing hours are beginning to tell on my spirits, and I’ve been actively suppressing a sneeze an itch and a yawn for what feels like uncountable ages, I know I can always count on the building itself to bring my eyes back to full humorous sparkle again at regular intervals – as one of it’s innumerable fans and turbines whizzes slowly up-to or down-from speed, along the way transiting through and hitting the resonant frequency of the entire structure, thus producing something rather like, shall we say, a super contra basso organic tuba-note.  ‘S’cuse.

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