Re­flec­tive Glory


Azure - - SPOTLIGHT - WORDS _Les­lie Smith PHO­TO­GRAPH _Rick O’brien

A decade af­ter Um­bra’s flag­ship opened in Toronto, its iconic hot pink cladding wasn’t look­ing so hot any­more. Its colour­ful mojo, so dif­fer­ent from the city’s reg­u­lar toned-down pal­ette, was meant not only to stand out but to hold its own against nearby build­ings like Will Al­sop’s OCAD Uni­ver­sity ex­ten­sion and Frank Gehry’s re­boot of the Art Gallery of On­tario. But the dis­tinc­tive poly­car­bon­ate pan­els had faded, es­pe­cially on the south­ern, sun-ex­posed side of the fa­cade fac­ing Queen Street West. The store’s own­ers con­sulted Kohn Sh­nier Ar­chi­tects, the firm that orig­i­nally helped them trans­form the build­ing. Should they change out the pan­els? Maybe re­think the pink? John Sh­nier pitched them on keep­ing the fins and wrap­ping them in a dichroic film. The colour base would still be fuch­sia, but now – with changes in sun­light, view­ers’ mo­tions and even pass­ing car head­lights – the ma­te­rial’s lay­ers of op­ti­cal coat­ing would con­stantly re­cal­i­brate, mov­ing from deep pur­ple and mauve, through pink, to am­ber, orange and green, like the shift­ing hues of gaso­line on wa­ter. There was only one prob­lem: This high-tech, bedaz­zled shrink-wrap had only been used in­doors; there were no guar­an­tees as to dura­bil­ity, or how long it would re­tain its dichroic char­ac­ter. True to their ad­ven­tur­ous na­ture, the clients were will­ing to take a risk on this ex­per­i­men­tal ap­pli­ca­tion. The re­sult, at least for now, is a mul­ti­di­men­sional, im­mer­sive ef­fect that, in Sh­nier’s words, “punches above its weight class and man­ages to stand up to its more high-pro­file neigh­bours.” What Sh­nier likes best is the way strong light can re­flect the shades be­yond the build­ing it­self, onto, for ex­am­ple, the side­walk and a nearby blank wall. The chro­matic aura aptly suits the brand name – um­bra be­ing Latin for “shade.” The down­town venue has be­come such a hit on so­cial me­dia that lo­cal sight­see­ing com­pa­nies have started adding it to their Toronto tours. kohn­sh­nier­ar­chi­

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