Guillaume Éthier. Architecture iconique : les leçons de Toronto, Québec, Presses de l'Université du Québec (“Patrimoine urbain” Series), 2015.
Commentary by Aliki Economides, associate member (June 2020):
In this book, the term “iconic architecture” [“architecture iconique”] denotes the specific mode of contemporary architectural production that relies on the creation of spectacular buildings for cultural institutions to stimulate economic development and urban transformation. Typically adopting a strategy of rupture from their surrounding urban context, these buildings are analyzed as participating in a larger strategy of transforming the city’s identity in the eyes of local and global publics. Taking Toronto as a revealing case, Guillaume Ethier focuses on four major cultural institutions that commissioned signature buildings during the first decade of the twenty-first century, namely: the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD); the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM); the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO); and the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.
Written by a sociologist who studies urban form, the book is insightful and free of ‘design-speak’ jargon. With substantial attention given to considerations of terminology, sociocultural context, and method, the groundwork is laid for the ensuing case studies by explaining the terms and phenomena under discussion, and offering a contextualizing discussion of Toronto’s cultural Renaissance and the city’s various identities. The case studies themselves are preceded by an explanation of the analytical framework employed to evaluate the iconic value of buildings both in terms of their form and their programmatic and projected functions. A valuable study in contemporary architectural developments in Toronto, this book sheds light on issues that are relevant to other Canadian cities, as well as to urban centres globally.
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