No Mean City: The World of Architecture, As Seen From Toronto

Mar 29

Toronto plays itself, and modernism = misery

2010 / Categories: Uncategorized

Atom Egoyan’s thriller Chloe opened this weekend, and it’s gotten a lot of attention in Toronto. Though it stars Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore, it also features Toronto prominently, and frankly, as its setting.

For those of you who aren’t locals, this is a big deal: Toronto’s sizeable film and TV production sector generally uses the city as a substitute for Chicago, or (with effort) New York, or simply Anytown, U.S.A.  My Globe and Mail colleague Liam Lacey wrote about these issues this weekend.

But the film also employs a contemporary house as one of its primary settings. It’s the Ravine House, by local firm Drew Mandel Design. The couple at the heart of the film’s narrative (played by Moore and Neeson), driven apart by insecurity and infidelity, call this place home. It’s easy to see why Egoyan chose the house. It offers high visual drama, seemingly teetering on the edge of a ravine, its back facade a collection of hard steel and crystal-clear glass.

But why must the residents be so unhappy? This perpetuates a long-standing cinematic cliche that casts modernist interiors as lairs of the bad guy, and refuges of the buttoned-down and miserable.

I wrote about the house for the Globe and Mail two years ago, and my piece talked about the tension between the house’s austere materials (including steel I-beams and exposed concrete block) and the owners’ goal of creating a “very homey” and “very warm,” as well as a very contemporary, environment. I certainly don’t know the owners, but they seemed to live an informal and family-centric home life. More to the point, they’ve put substantial time, thought, and money into creating a unique home for their family, and were generous patrons to an emerging local architect. So how does a house like this, born from nesting and careful architectural art, come to signify emptiness and cold silences?

Drew Mandel Design, Ravine House. Photo: Tom Arban

Interior, Ravine House. Photo: Tom Arban

3 comments on Toronto plays itself, and modernism = misery

  1. Tweets that mention Toronto plays itself, and modernism = misery « nomeancity --
    on Apr 8, 2010
    at 3:51 pm 

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ThePocketSquare, Architecture News. Architecture News said: RT @ThePocketSquare: Looks like @alexbozikovic and I have similar ideas on Chloe and it's use of Toronto #architect … [...]

  2. Alison
    on Apr 14, 2010
    at 1:29 pm 

    Keeping Eric Arthur’s spirit alive I see.

    Good work! The cliche does seem to fit: wolves live in modernist lairs. I guess lambs would live in Bloomsbury-inspired spaces or tudor homes with lots of bookshelves, seeing as wolves avoid reading to avoid connecting any ideas to themselves. Who knows!!?


    p.s. I’ll be in touch shortly. I have an idea for you.

  3. Chloe’s Toronto | Building Station
    on Sep 20, 2010
    at 12:31 am 

    [...] house just plays the front, giving a suburban context to the three-person family. But the inside is played by the Ravine House by Drew Mandel Design, a house that appears to be in a more rural area (but in reality is down the [...]

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