S K Y L I N E | Is New York’s Cinematic Stand-In Burning?
Things are amiss in Toronto
Issue 97. Canadians don’t account for a big slice of our subscriber list, but we’ll certainly take more of you! Subscribe today.
Classes at most US schools reconvened this week, and so lecture series are off to a slow start. While New York takes a break, this issue of SKYLINE looks north to the city’s cinematic stand-in: Toronto. Two dispatches offer a hopeful counterweight to Toronto’s deepening social and economic crises, briefly explained below: In the Regent Park neighborhood, artist Cristian Ordóñez memorialized a building slated for demolition, and in the Financial District, architect and educator Reza Nik kicked off the Experimenters conversation series about the economics of starting a practice. With the On the Town column, we return to New York, where Eva Hagberg and Liz Kubany gathered at Head Hi bookshop to talk about publishing and publicizing.
For a US readership, Toronto is likely to conjure up images of construction cranes and shiny anonymous-looking skyscrapers. A quick web search will place the Canadian city in top livability rankings alongside the likes of Copenhagen and Frankfurt. This narrative, of Toronto as a friendly, stable multicultural hub enveloped in the constant buzz of growth, is perpetuated locally by city officials who depend on the good press for their political survival. That shiny, always-under-construction city does exist; the images are real. But that version of Toronto is increasingly for people who don’t ever need to use a public bathroom or take the bus. The other Toronto, the one that you don’t see, is slowly bursting into flames. “Toronto is a tale of two cities right now” is how Toronto Star columnist Shawn Micallef put it in an article late last year. “One privately rich and the other publicly impoverished.”
Emboldened by their recent reelections, conservative officials at the provincial and municipal levels are on a renewed offensive against what’s left of Toronto’s social infrastructure. As it enters 2023, the city faces a systemic budget shortfall, with further cuts to social services and transit looming. Among the latest, in November, Ontario province passed a legislation that deregulates the housing market and encourages sprawl under the guise of providing more housing. Much of the offensive against Toronto’s social fabric, in fact, leverages the city’s acute housing crisis toward profitable ends (the November legislation was named the “More Homes Built Faster Act”).
Earlier this week, I spoke with Micallef to get a better sense of it all, and to understand whether Toronto is really burning—or about to. Part of the blame lies with mayor John Tory, he said: Eight years ago, when a self-destructive, faux populist mayor was eyeing a second term in office, Tory was viewed as just the competent, calm businessman to stop him. But according to Micallef, Tory “has largely continued his predecessor’s strangulation of city services and budget cuts while ever more money is given to the police.” Just last week, Tory announced an increase in the police budget, service cuts to transit, and a fare hike. “[We’re looking at] a housing crisis, declining local democracy due to provincially-imposed changes, and a mayor that continues to cut the social fabric of the city,” Micallef said. “Toronto is heading in a very bad direction right now.”
—Sebastián López Cardozo
1/5: Awaiting Demolition
REGENT PARK — “Would you like a pen?” I hear someone say behind me as I struggle to take notes with my dried-up old Bic. “We have plenty in the back.” NICOLE CHARLES, co-owner of Project 107 gestures toward a dark corner of the room where shelves on wheels hold miscellaneous art supplies. The art gallery is located in a small modernist building that is slated for demolition. With a fresh pen in hand, I fire one last question: I ask where Project 107 is moving when the building is torn down. “We’re just packing things up and putting them in storage,” replies Charles.
The same building is the setting for, and the object of CRISTIAN ORDÓÑEZ’s new large-format photography exhibition, Displace, which opened on January 5. The exhibition marks the culmination of a year-long collaboration between Ordóñez and the gallery. “Nicole and [co-owner] Justin [Pape] found this space,” Ordóñez told me, “and I started visiting them and working with them on projects.” On his frequent visits to the building, he began noticing certain quirks—an aborted renovation project, a stained carpet, a desiccated plant left behind in an empty office—that he eventually thought to record.
The photographs are mounted on thin wooden structures. Anchored to the wall and to the ground, the displays venture into the space of the gallery itself. “There are corners, areas where you have to go in and discover new images; it recreates the way that I discovered spaces while moving through the building,” said Ordóñez. Speaking of his decision to print the photographs in newsprint paper, Ordóñez said that he wanted to evoke the fragility and impermanence of the space: “Unlike what you might expect from fine art prints, newsprint will disappear over time. It’s a metaphor, in a way, about how this place is also going to disappear.”
1/6: Toronto Is Now on Air
FINANCIAL DISTRICT —“I had a job where I didn’t have to work overtime,” said MAT BARNES in a refreshingly honest, plainspoken Instagram Live conversation with local architect, artist and educator REZA NIK. Barnes, a London-based designer and founder of CAN, reflected on the realities of gradually starting his own practice—while working full-time for somebody else. “In architecture school [in the UK], they teach you nothing about how to develop your business, get jobs, get clients, and do all the stuff you need to actually do architecture,” Barnes told Nik, who is the founder of SHEEEP Studio.
The chat kicked off SHEEEP’s Experimenters series, a monthly, hour-long Q+A with “thinkers, doers and makers.” Structured around a set of six simple questions (When and why did you start out on your own? How did you do it? What were your sources and resources? Etc.), the informal talks aim to dispense practical wisdom about the cultural and economic realities of running a practice.
In a professional milieu that often remains attached to the mythology of design as a quasi-spiritual calling, the inaugural chat (viewable here) offered a sobering, yet inclusive, riposte to architectural gatekeeping. It’s about as far as you can get from word salad–laden panels of academia, which is a hell of a promising start.
NYRA ON THE TOWN
BROOKLYN NAVY YARD — Wednesday night at the Head Hi bookshop was sharing time with EVA HAGBERG, author of When Eero Met His Match (reviewed in NYRA #31). The book recounts the relationship between architect Eero Saarinen and Aline Louchheim, the New York Times journalist who would become his wife and publicist. “The scandal isn’t the sex,” she told interlocutor LIZ KUBANY, describing an incident where Aline’s scruples as a critic were called into question. “The scandal is that she sent him a draft [of her review of a building of his] before publication, to get his commentary.”
Kubany is a veteran publicist with many reputable clients, including Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. She and Hagberg, who, in addition to being a publicist, is a critic, memoirist, and historian, engaged in an amicable discussion about some of the hazards of their métier. Professional boundaries can indeed get blurred, but not always in unseemly ways. Hagberg recalled a client she was close with who once approached her about a personal favor: “Eva, there’s no one else I trust. Can you write my speech for my daughter’s wedding?”
For those not plugged into the world of PR, the dialogue proved insightful. If, in some sense, the success of a design practice relies on building and maintaining relationships, then the role of a publicist begins to look like that of a close confidant. More than that: a kingmaker. Take the average architect you see in the glossies, Hagberg said, “he’s famous because he hired x,” not necessarily because his work is good. The Saarinen-Louchheim partnership is perhaps the most extreme example of this. She (“a masterful manipulator,“ in Hagberg’s estimation) often overwrote her partner and transformed his practice in the process. Adopting a communications-first outlook, Louchheim knew how to present Saarinen’s work in a way that was attractive to clients and the press alike. More than that, her promotional copy was engaging and accessible to readers—a form of writing that just doesn’t come naturally to architects. “It doesn’t need to be about your mom,” Hagberg said, “it just needs to show your enthusiasm.”
EYES ON SKYLINE
In Skyline 96, readers were most interested in revisiting Skyline 54: Neighborhood Watch.
IN THE NEWS
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1:30 PM EST | Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
First Friday with Buro Happold
6:00 PM EST | The Architectural League of New York
Found in Translation with Ken Tadashi Oshima, Momoyo Kaijima, and Sunil Bald
6:30 PM EST | Yale University School of Architecture
The Antique in Print with Adriano Aymonino, Julia Siemon
1:00 PM EST | Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
The Public Realm in the “New” New York with Julie Stein
8:30 AM EST | Urban Design Forum
Dancing About Architecture: A Common Conversation with David Rockwell & Deborah Berke
6:30 PM EST | Yale University School of Architecture
Black and Female with Tsitsi Dangarembga, Margo Jefferson
7:00 PM EST | Cooper Union Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture
Our listings are constantly being updated. Check the events page regularly for up-to-date listings and submit events through this link.
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