Summer Changes in Toronto

Don Procter

June 2007

This summer Torontonians will finally see the completion of the Royal Ontario Museum’s striking new $250 million (Cdn.) addition, the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, by celebrated American architect Daniel Libeskind, designer of New York City’s new World Trade Center.

The project, which looks like a giant crystal growing out of the old ROM complex, consists of a network of interlocking prismatic forms clad in glass and aluminum. It’s been as daunting a task to build as it was to design and engineer.

"There are no 90 degree angles, and there are no vertical walls,” explains Francisco Alvarez, ROM’s director of communications. "It was a matter of doing two or three passes at a method of construction to get it right.”

In a sense, each of the extruded aluminum panels was like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle: Each panel had to fit in its place perfectly—resizing (cutting) an individual panel here and there on site would be equivalent to trimming a few jigsaw pieces in a puzzle. It just wouldn’t work.

To make sure that every piece was perfectly sized for the Crystal, a detailed computer model was employed. Each panel was precision cut in Germany by fabricator Josef Gardner, the company also responsible for the cladding’s erection, says John Martin, project director of Vanbots Construction Corporation, construction manager of the project.

The interior of the new addition was equally daunting. One problem for the drywall contractor (Marel Contractors) was just how to get to some of the walls—some of which are at 45-degree angles. The use of a zoom boom or even scaffolding wasn’t always possible. "Sometimes the crew had to climb up the drywall (on cleats or a ladder) and plaster as they came down,” Martin says.

The Crystal, which opened June 2, was 18 months behind schedule and $50 million over the original budget price. Aside from the complex design, a factor in the delays was the shortage of structural steel. From the time the project was priced out to the time it went to tender three years later, the price of steel had almost doubled because the supply dwindled due to a pent-up demand in China.

The ROM is giving the public an opportunity to see the interior architecture—free of exhibits. The permanent exhibits will be installed later this summer.

Collective Agreement Ratified
The unionized drywall industry in Ontario recently ratified its three-year collective agreement with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.

The agreement is less interesting for its contents than for the way it was negotiated—amicably over a six-month period.

Although the collective agreement didn’t expire until May 1, 2007, negotiations between the Interior Systems Contractors Association of Ontario, the IUPAT and the Carpenter’s union commenced last November. Bargaining that far in advance of an agreement’s expiry is unheard of in the construction sector.

"I think it is the first time that unions and employers were sincere about the collective bargaining process. It shows good faith between employers and unions in a partnership to ratify a deal,” says Bill Nicholls, business manager and secretary treasurer of the IUPAT District Council 46 and president of the Ontario Council of Painters.

"What’s really important here is that the employers can do their pricing now for the upcoming construction season. They know what their costs are for labor, materials and supplies,” Nicholls said.

In the past, collective agreements in the sector have sometimes gone unsigned well into the summer.

About the Author
Don Procter is free-lance writer in Ontario, Canada.