Transforming the Royal Ontario Museum for the future, Hariri Pontarini Architects turns ROM 'inside out'

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Transforming the Royal Ontario Museum for the future, Hariri Pontarini Architects turns ROM 'inside out'
Water feature enwraps the heritage building at ROM.

TORONTO.- The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto has announced a sweeping architectural transformation of its main floor and Bloor Street entrance with a design by Siamak Hariri, founding partner of Hariri Pontarini Architects. The multi-faceted initiative called OpenROM will dramatically open the Museum up even more to the public, creating a thriving cultural and civic hub for the city and the 1.4-million visitors a year to Canada’s preeminent museum.

The design reconfigures the ground floor and Bloor Street entrance with a light-filled interior plaza that will be fully animated with programming and performances. On the upper floors, 6,000sf of new gallery space will be introduced to the public and showcase more of ROM’s world-renowned collections of art, culture and nature. The enlivening design is paired with a second bold announcement from the Museum today that OpenROM, when complete in 2027, will introduce ongoing free access to the Museum’s entire main floor.

“OpenROM is more than a physical transformation; it is a major leap forward in the Museum’s ongoing evolution to becoming an even more welcoming and accessible space,” says Josh Basseches, ROM Director & CEO. “This is an opportunity to truly throw the doors of the Museum open, both literally and figuratively, and invite more people in to experience all ROM has to offer.”

“We’re going to re-introduce ROM to Toronto with a design that, in effect, turns the Museum inside out and dissolves boundaries between the public realm and the interior,” says Siamak Hariri. “We’re going to bring daylight and views deep inside and create porous connections with Bloor Street, within the ground floor public spaces, and the galleries themselves.”

In addition to reimagining the core of the Museum, the project includes further enhancements to the exterior spaces. Animating a landmark intersection in Toronto, a new showcase water feature will wrap around the heritage façade at the corner of Bloor Street and Queen’s Park. This fountain will evolve with the seasons, changing from burbling water in the summer to cracked ice in the winter, a nod to frozen Canadian landscapes and the importance of sustainability.

Anchoring the exterior will be a newly designed and fully accessible Bloor Street entrance, sheltered by an expansive, cantilevered bronze canopy. Building on the iconic Daniel Libeskind-designed Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, OpenROM will provide visitors with more immediate access to ROM’s world-class collection. Direct sightlines through new floor-to-ceiling glazing reveal artifacts and displays where ticketing functions exist presently. An oculus cut into the ceiling and lined in warm wood panels that radiate outwards, will draw visitors’ eyes upwards, offering views of the remarkable dinosaur galleries above.

The foyer’s deep vista leads to the new heart of the Museum: Hennick Commons, so named for the catalyzing $50-million donation from the Hennick Family Foundation that launched OpenROM. Here, the soaring, four-storey atrium that connects the contemporary and heritage wings of the Museum is capped with a high-performance diagrid glass ceiling, allowing natural light to cascade into this renewed space, destined to become a beloved cultural living room for the city of Toronto. Within, visitors will enjoy a 2,400sf (223sm) performance forum, café, and an environment designed to encourage congregation and conversation.

The architectural centerpiece of OpenROM is a grand, three-level lily pad connector of ramps and stairs that will offer whimsical wayfinding and accessible overlook platforms for surveying the Museum. This structure knits together old and new wings of the building to improve mobility and provide opportunities for programming. Openings in both the heritage and Crystal facades will introduce dialogue between gallery spaces across Hennick Commons. The new limestone and wood floor will be levelled, adding program versatility and seating to enhance the visitor experience in this free public space.

Hariri Pontarini Architects’ previous work at ROM includes The Welcome Project (2019), which reconceived the open space surrounding the Museum, adding a performance terrace and plaza, and restoring the original entrance on Queen’s Park. Construction on OpenROM begins now and the Museum will remain open throughout the project.

Siamak Hariri - M.Arch, OAA, AAA, AIBC, FRAIC, RCA, Intl. Assoc. AIA
Founding Partner

Siamak Hariri has built a portfolio and a reputation for creating admired and transformative architectural design. Since establishing Hariri Pontarini Architects with partner David Pontarini in 1994, the practice has won over 100 awards, including five Governor General’s Medals in Architecture and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s (RAIC) Architectural Firm Award and Innovation in Architecture Award.

In 2017, Siamak gave a TED Talk entitled, ‘How do you build a sacred space?’ with over 1.3 million views, and was celebrated as one of Canada’s Artists who Mattered Most by The Globe and Mail. In 2019, the firm was awarded the prestigious RAIC International Prize for the Bahá’í Temple of South America in Santiago, Chile. Other acclaimed projects include the Tom Patterson Theatre at the Stratford Festival; Casey House and the BARLO MS Centre in Toronto; and offices of McKinsey & Company, the youngest building to be recognized with City of Toronto Heritage designation.

Current cultural projects in addition to OpenROM include the reimagining of the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, an expansion of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, art galleries at York University and SFU in Burnaby, BC, the Pickering Museum Village, and renovating the Regent Theatre in Toronto.

Born in Bonn, Germany, Siamak was educated at the University of Waterloo and Yale University where he completed a Master of Architecture. He has sat on the advisory board of the Royal Ontario Museum’s Institute of Contemporary Culture, the Toronto Community Foundation, and was a member of Waterfront Toronto’s Design Review Panel from 2005 to 2010. He has taught studios at the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design at the University of Toronto and has been a lecturer, guest critic, and jury member for numerous organizations across North America and Europe.

Siamak was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Architecture from then-named Ryerson University for his contribution to the field in both Canada and abroad. The University of Toronto honoured him with an Arbor Award for his contribution to the University experience as a lecturer and adjunct professor. Siamak lives in Toronto with his wife, artist Sasha Rogers, and their three children; Lua, Yasmin, and David.

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