Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 7, because kids have a playhouse
How do you make Toronto’s best building even better? You put in a kids’ space. The Weston Family Learning Centre at the AGO is sort of like the city’s finished basement, if the city had artsy parents with money. It’s one of the rare spots where children can be happy and those responsible for them can lounge hiply, admiring an architecturally superb space, designed by the super-hot firm Hariri Pontarini. It’s almost too nice to have grubby little children running around in it.
Of course, the AGO was great for kids even before the Learning Centre. Upstairs you can take them to see Frans Snyders’ Evisceration of a Roebuck With a Portrait of a Married Couple, a great painting of a man emptying a deer while his wife smiles pleasantly at his side. That always makes for an interesting discussion. Or the crazy Shary Boyle porcelain sculpture of a boy sitting with the severed head of Medusa. Or Rubens’ Massacre of the Innocents (not for those prone to nightmares). But now, if the kids get bored or disturbed, you can just nip downstairs—entry is free with a membership or a general admission ticket. No lineups. No huge crowds. Just a massive circular table for colouring, drawing, painting and printmaking, costumes for dress-up and Legos for building. There are even ping pong tables. The whole business is supervised by heroically tolerant assistants.
The coolest feature by far, though, is the Emily Carr coat rack, a serpentine ribbon of stainless steel with 750 hooks suspended from the ceiling. When school groups show up, the coat rack is lowered to the floor, and once everybody has hung up their stuff, it’s lifted back overhead. The scheme was inspired by Carr’s living-room-cum-studio, in which she used a pulley and rope system to raise furniture to the ceiling. The smooth metallic curves also echo the luscious Gehry twists and turns upstairs. It’s childlike but not childish, and a clever introduction to culture.