I like the reno, I don’t like the reno, I like the reno, I…

When I decide for sure whether I think the Museum Station platform renovations have turned out to be a good thing or not – I’ll let you know.

One the one hand…everything looks crisp and clean and sharp. It induces the visual equivalent of the “new car smell.” You know what I mean.

On the other hand…why did they pick the muted, rather dull, dusty rose colour for the station walls? Though it’s a nice colour, it just doesn’t seem to go with anything. Not with the red pillars that mimic those from the Forbidden City in Beijing. And certainly not with the huge bright orange “M-U-S-E-U-M” letters with the inscribed black Egyptian heiroglyphs, sunk into the rose walls at the forward end of each platform. Striking though the contrast is.

If the idea was to link this renovation with the Royal Ontario Museum and the Gardiner Museum aboveground, as the designers said it was, it might have made more sense to go with something in silver, black, and grey, to match the new look of both those institutions.

On the other hand…those pillars do look sharp. alternating from the Doric Greek columns, to the Toltec Warrior column, to the Egyptian Osiris with crook and flail, to the First Nation house pillar in the shape of a bear, to the Forbidden City columns. They march in orderly procession down the platform, each one illumined with its own special light, and you really feel like you’re strolling down a corridor in a museum somewhere.

On the other hand…did the designers really have to make most of them dark gray?? The carving is intricate and detailed and clear – but they’re gray! In the original published “artist’s conception,” we were presented with rows of pillars shaped like Egyptian sarcophagi, painted in authentic colours, so that you could have imagined yourself walking through a real pillared hall in an ancient Egyptian temple. Even if the designers did eventually change from all-Egyptian pillars to the variety we see now, would it really have been that much more expensive to paint these columns to resemble their real counterparts? Even though the Doric columns at least are creamy white, the only real colour is the plain red of the Forbidden City pillars – which, as I said, clashes with the dusty rose walls and their big orange letters.

On the other hand…it gave me goosebumps, staring up at that impassive Egyptian face in its striped headdress, arms folded across the upper chest, crook in one hand, flail in the other, with heiroglyphs marching up the other three sides of the column. Or peering at the fierce bear growling from the house pillar, claws raised as though to strike. Or gazing at the other-worldly face of the Toltec warrior (even though he does rather look like he’s about to stick out his tongue). These do really feel like museum pieces themselves.

On the other hand…although the roof above has been fixed and cleaned up and painted a fresh white, I looked at the obvious cement surface and the stark electric lights and thought, “basement ceiling.” Granted, the subway is underground, but it doesn’t need to look like a basement. I have a feeling they were trying to make the ceiling plain enough that it wouldn’t distract from the other artistic elements, but that cement plainness itself was a big distraction for me.

On the other hand…the whole area is fascinating and educational and makes even a short wait for the train much more interesting. In my few minutes there, as several trains went by, there were always lots of people clustered around the big information plaque, learning what each pillar stood for, and what the heiroglyphs said. This, too, carried overtones of a real museum experience.

So in many ways, the designers have achieved their goal of taking the aboveground experience down into the adjoining subway station, either to get incoming museum patrons into the mood, or else to ease outgoing visitors down gently. I just don’t know, yet, if I think it all works.

But on the other hand! We can now say for sure that nobody will be wrapping these pillars in gigantic vinyl toothpaste or toilet paper ads. So that’s one good thing we can agree on already.

(Some of my photos of the renovation can be found here.)

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