$50 million lead gift from Jay and Barbara Hennick earmarked for museum renovation

It’s been called “the most hated building in Canada”, and there is a kind of legend around its conception via scribblings on a napkin by famed architect David Libeskind.

Certainly, with its bold angles of steel and glass, the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal facing Bloor Street at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum is a love it or hate it proposition.

At its opening, the addition to Canada’s most visited museum was widely decried in the media, with the bad press even reaching the Washington Post. Among the critiques was that it led to visitor confusion, and an unfriendly face to the street for Canada’s largest museum.

But, all that is set to change with a revamp project that is set to begin this year.

“OpenROM is more than a physical transformation; it is a major leap forward in the Museum’s ongoing evolution to becoming an even more welcoming and accessible space,” says Josh Basseches, ROM Director & CEO in a statement.

“This is an opportunity to truly throw the doors of the Museum open, both literally and figuratively, and invite more people in to experience all ROM has to offer. We want people from down the block and around the world to feel like this is a place for them, where they are inspired and belong.”

OpenROM is the name given to the initiative that will redesign the opening of the Museum to be more visitor-friendly, and to create both a cultural and civic hub. The redesign includes the Museum’s main floor and Bloor Street entrance.

OpenROM is funded entirely by private donations, including a $50 million gift from the Hennick Family Foundation, representing the most significant single cash gift in the Museum’s history. The Hennick Family Foundation was created by Toronto lawyer Jay Hennick and his wife Barbara. Jay Hennick is a member of the Order of Canada.

“We are honored to serve as catalyst donors for a transformational vision for the Royal Ontario Museum,” said Jay and Barbara Hennick. “OpenROM reimagines the visitor experience and will help to revitalize civic life in our great city. It’s finally time for the ROM to take its rightful place among the very best museums in the world.”

The Museum will remain open during the three-year construction period.

Once completed, OpenROM will give visitors free access to the main floor of the Museum year-round, including special programming, live performances, and activities. The concept is built on the ROM’s successful summertime pilot project, Free Main Floor, which ran during 2022 and 2023.

“We’re going to re-introduce ROM to Toronto with a design that, in effect, turns the Museum inside out,” says Siamak Hariri. “We’re going to bring daylight and views deep inside and create new connections with Bloor Street, within the ground floor public spaces and the galleries themselves.”

Toronto-based firm Hariri Pontarini Architects’ Siamak Hariri was chosen to lead the project, which will revamp a main floor space covering 86,000 square feet. The redesign project will also include 6,000 square feet of new gallery space on the second and third levels.

The exterior will also see transformation, including:

A new water feature will wrap around the façade at the corner of Bloor Street and Queen’s Park;

The fountain will change with the seasons;

A new and fully accessible entrance at Bloor with a bronze canopy and floor-to-ceiling and glass;

The new entrance will be called the Hennick Entrance.

The foyer will display art and pieces from the ROM’s collections, with an oculus, or a large portal in the ceiling, to add light to a view of the dinos in the upper galleries.

Lit by natural lighting, the four-story atrium will feature a ceiling made of high-performance glass in an intersecting metal structure.

A 2,400 square foot forum for live performances and presentations;

A multi-level lily pad staircase with three accessible platforms that will connect the old and new wings, and improve mobility.

The goal is to create a public plaza and hub.

OpenROM is part of the Museum’s multi-year renewal plan, which began with the reopening of the Queen’s Park entrance in 2017, and has since incorporated the Willner Madge Gallery, Dawn of Life, which is the first permanent gallery to showcase fossils revealing the origins of life in the world.

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