The Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre hold out hope for an unlikely and uninteresting neighborhood.
If it’s true that location is everything, Toronto’s Ismaili Centre and Aga Khan Museum have nothing. Situated near a dreary suburban intersection in the city’s North End, the recently completed complex is the last thing you’d expect to find there. But it has already changed the tone of the neighborhood, and become a local landmark to the hordes who drive daily up and down Toronto’s main North-South highway, the notorious Don Valley Parkway.
In this unlikeliest of settings, an exquisite glass dome now rises asymmetrically over a 17-acre formal garden. A remarkable pair of buildings sits side by side, intimately connected yet clearly separate.
For Toronto, however, the center raises the stakes. It brings social and architectural value to a precinct where its absence was conspicuous. The Ismailis’ great gift to the city ultimately will be one of civic self-respect. It’s too soon to tell whether their act of generosity will lead Torontonians to reexamine what kind of a city they want. Whether it will lead to a rethink of the big box stores, the malls, and the industrial parks that surround the center remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: The future of suburbia suddenly looks a whole lot brighter.
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