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The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) has formally announced—and shared the initial design of—a major expansion project at its Toronto campus that will boost the museum’s total available space to display its collection by 30 percent. Led by Toronto’s own Diamond Schmitt, New York-based Selldorf Architects, and native-owned Ontario firm Two Row Architect, the five-story addition will span 40,000 square feet above the AGO’s existing loading dock tucked between the museum complex at Grange Park and neighboring OCAD University. Dedicated to housing the AGO’s fast-growing collection of modern and contemporary art, the proposed design includes no less than 13 flexible, column-free galleries seamlessly linked to the museum’s existing exhibition spaces via four separate access points. 

Initially known as AGO Global Contemporary, the estimated $73.5 million project was first made public in January of last year, with the selection of Diamond Schmitt, Selldorf Architects, and Two Row Architect as architectural partners being announced later that spring. With today’s design reveal nearly a year later, the forthcoming wing also has an official name: the Dani Reiss Modern and Contemporary Gallery. Reiss, whose catalytic lead gift set the project into motion, is CEO and chairman of Canada Goose. 

The expansion is the seventh such effort in the 123-year history of the AGO at its longtime downtown Toronto home. Shortly after settling into a landmark 19th-century Georgian manse known as the Grange in 1911 following its first decade in existence in temporary rented spaces, the AGO (known it its early years as the Art Gallery of Toronto) experienced a substantial growth spurt during the first half of the 20th century with multiple modest expansions led by Darling and Pearson. 

Additional overhauls followed in the 1970s, 1990s, and, more recently, a dramatic, complex-unifying redesign and expansion project helmed by Frank Gehry that debuted in 2008. In a recent conversation with RECORD editor in chief Josephine Minutillo, Selldorf Architects founding principal Annabelle Selldorf noted Toronto native Gehry’s support for the forthcoming addition, relaying to her: “We’re such different architects, but I totally trust what you do.”

In a statement provided to RECORD, Selldorf described working alongside Diamond Schmitt and Two Row Architect as being a "deeply gratifying experience," adding: "AGO has a remarkable collection but even more importantly they are as committed to creating a genuinely inclusive and welcoming experience as any museum we have encountered."

"Toronto is a very diverse city, and this museum has attracted a younger demographic than most of their global peers," Selldorf elaborated. "The innovative outreach programs are unparalleled. For us as architects that translates to a truly collaborative and forward-looking team approach across all disciplines. We all identify with AGO’s deeply felt values and have worked to translate those into richly experiential yet accessible and rational design strategy which respects the surroundings with a strong presence.”


Aerial view of the Dani Reiss Modern and Contemporary Gallery looking northwest. The new wing will be located just east of AGO's 2008 Gehry addition. Also seen is the neighboring, Will Alsop–designed Sharp Center at OCAD. Image courtesy Art Gallery of Ontario, Diamond Schmitt, Selldorf Architects, Two Row Architect, and Play-Time.

As detailed by the AGO in its announcement, the design of the Dani Reiss Modern and Contemporary Gallery is being informed by an ongoing, Two Row Architect–guided consultation with Indigenous communities that are “instrumental in leading the team to adopt adaptability, accessibility, relevancy, zero carbon operating, and inclusivity as their guiding principles.”

Referring to the expansion as an "opportunity to extend the conversation into the very architecture of the place," Brian Porter, principal of Two Row Architect, described the design team as creating a "welcoming addition where trust can be built, and relationships nurtured." 

Powered by an emissions-free, all-electric mechanical plant, the loading dock–topping addition will be built to Passive House standards and seek Zero Carbon Operating Building certification from the Canada Green Building Council. "With a design that prioritizes both sustainability, flexibility, and Zero Carbon certification, the AGO will be positioned to further its role as cultural anchor of Toronto and a global leader in conversations about modern and contemporary art,” Diamond Schmitt principal Donald Schmitt told RECORD.

Currently in the early stages of municipal and public review, construction on the Dani Reiss Modern and Contemporary Gallery is expected to kick off next year. 

RECORD will host a discussion about the changing nature of museums at the New Museum in New York on March 21. Click here for more information and to register.