Art Gawking at Aga Khan Museum, Toronto


I’m lucky to be able to travel the world for work as a museum planner, but this sometimes means I don’t spend enough time checking out the cultural offerings in my own back yard. Last week I finally made the trek up to Toronto’s new Aga Khan Museum. The museum was designed by the low-key star architect Fumihiko Maki and his team at Maki and Associates. A couple years ago I worked with Maki and Associates on the Bihar Museum, for which they won the international architectural competition. Incidentally, I’m currently working with the amazing team at Moriyama and Teshima Architects (MTA) on a new museum in Dubai. It turns out that MTA were the architects of record for Aga Khan Museum – small coincidences that show how small this world really is.


The architecture of the Aga Khan Museum is elegant, though we didn’t get a chance to explore the beautiful grounds as it was snowing like crazy the day of our visit. However, the building works well as a museum – a beautiful courtyard allows for natural light to permeate the space while the galleries are beautifully lit, with the exquisite collection thoughtfully displayed.

There are some awkward elements that a general public probably won’t notice or find disturbing such as the placement of a freight elevator that directly opens into the permanent collection gallery, or the location of ‘exit’ signs extremely close to wall mounted artifacts. Overall, though there is great attention to detail in terms of how the objects are mounted and displayed. Beautifully minimal glass vitrines, custom mounts and impeccable exhibit lighting (a combination of in case and ex case lighting) allow the collection of Islamic artifacts to really shine. A bit more interpretation around key artifacts would have been nice, but for a museum visitor like myself who just likes to wander around and look at stunning objects this was an excellent experience. As the winter chill sets in, I’d highly recommend spending a few hours wandering the galleries then getting a bite at the restaurant. It’s worth the jaunt up.

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India, Buddha and I

So, what do India, Buddha and I have in common? Aside from being Asian and being awesome — a new museum that recently opened in Patna, India. This is actually old news (over two months old), but seeing as my editorial schedule for this blog is haphazard at best (unfortunately personal blogging has had to take a back seat to professional duties), it’s still timely in my world.

Buddha Smriti Museum (Smriti means memory) is one of the projects that I’m most proud of and is also one of the first projects in which I played a lead role from the pre-bid concept stage, to flying out to India to pitch the concept, to winning it, doing the actual planning and then working with my amazing design colleagues to design and implement. All told I started working on this in 2011 so it’s been a slog. But, nobody ever said the museum world was fast and furious.

Buddha Smriti Museum was inaugurated on 13 September 2013 by the Princess of Bhutan. The event apparently coincided with a huge Buddhist conclave that was happening at Bodh Gaya so lots of Buddhist monks from around the world attended. The Museum is the newest addition to the Buddha Smriti Park complex which was inaugurated by the Dalai Lama in 2010.

I found this hilarious video tour of the Museum on YouTube. It’s a bit choppy and the guy barges around like a baby rhino, but at least you get a glimpse of the various exhibits that are in the museum. I’ll admit though, this guy’s museum going style is totally like mine.

You can see more images at this Facebook page.

Collective Eating & Scheming

Summer isn’t just about biking, patios and illicit park drinking. It’s also about sitting around with like-minded people plannin’, schemin’, sweatin’ and dreamin’. Last night was one of the first official meetings of the Directors Collective (of which yours truly is 1 of 5 Directors). Spanning Vancouver, Toronto and Washington, D.C. it’s been a long time coming. Stay tuned as we prepare to launch our site and brand and make stuff. Suffice to say, it’s going to be a busy summer! Hope your summer is as fun as mine. MORE! MORE! MORE!


Speedwalking Through the VAG’s Grand Hotel

If you know me then you’ll know I’m not good at sitting still. You’ll also know what a relief it was to finally deplane after 5ish hours of sitting in the middle seat from YYZ to YVR. The saving grace of yesterday’s journey, aside from the ramen and izakaya eats, was my whirlwind visit to the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG).

For a museum planner I’m notorious for getting museum fatigue really really easily. Maybe this makes me super sympathetic to museum-goers, especially the 5 year-old kid who’s bored to tears at any given moment at any given museum in this wide world. My capacity for boredom and fatigue also accords with my inability to sit through a plane ride. Anyways, I had 30 minutes to breeze through the permanent galleries which is often plenty of time. Needless to say I was astonished when I found myself wanting more time to explore the Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life exhibition that is currently showing.

Road Trip Gallery detail

Road Trip Gallery detail

Road Trip Gallery Detail

Road Trip Gallery Detail


I won’t go into details here (though I really want to) simply because, as I said, I breezed through the show and it really deserves a proper write-up. However, it’s a super engaging theme and the curators were pretty expansive in their approach to the topic touching on such sub-themes as culture, the social, travel and design. I’d say the show broadly addresses the question: How is modern life understood differently through the phenomenon of the modern hotel?

I found the ‘culture’ exhibits particularly interesting — it’s a lot of text and poring over documents, mixed with screen-based experiences of movie clips and music from the period. For me it was super interesting because it explores the hotel as hub or retreat for cultural creation (think Ginsberg and the Beat Hotel in Paris). Normally the amount of reading involved would be a deal-breaker (it’s really not that much text, but it’s me), but everything in the show is assembled with care and purpose so I want to give it a proper go.

If I can swing it in between meetings and client dinners I will definitely go back and take my time.

Sitting in my hotel room right now, trying to deal with a fit of insomnia, I feel a tinge of regret. Regret because I didn’t have more time at the VAG to immerse myself in the world of modern hotels. Even more regret because the the hotel room I’m sitting in as I write is bland and it’s doubtful any sudden bursts of creativity will be forthcoming.

Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life runs from April 13 to September 15, 2013.

Adhocracy NOW!

In the course of my morning routine of moping around until I find the perfect Songza playlist (today is Sunshine Indie Pop) I came across a new (at least for me) word – Adhocracy. Not only does it sound awesome, but there’s actually substance to its meaning. Once you read the wiki page for adhocracy, you’ll probably recognize a lot of its principles repeated in countless HR blogs and stuff you’d read about management and innovation on a daily basis on LinkedIn.

While the word is often used in theories of organizational management, I came across it because it was also the name of an exhibition for Istanbul Design Week (October 13 – December 12, 2012) that was showing at Galata Greek Primary School.

Exhibition view, Adhocracy. photo: flickr_Fablab Torino

Exhibition view, Adhocracy. photo: flickr_Fablab Torino

The spirit of adhocracy really resonates with me because it’s also what compelled me to start this blog and to revisit my creative practice. It’s process-driven, self reflexive, against bureaucracy and rigid structure, craft-based (as in artisanal, quality, opposition to mass produced), fluid and open. It’s an approach to work, and in the case of the exhibition – design, that while not altogether new is worth naming.

As Joseph Grima, co-curator of the Biennial notes, “Design is an act of observing, internalising, questioning and rethinking the prescribed responses to these queries, and thereby giving form to everyday life and collective space.”

So yes, adhocracy will be on my mind for the rest of the day…and hopefully something the Directors Collective will think on as we build something together.

Swoon from afar…

I’ve been monitoring Random International’s Rain Room at the Barbican Centre since it’s launch, secretly hoping that work, or personal life, would somehow contrive to send me to London. Alas, with 12 days left and counting it seems I’ll not be able to experience it for myself. Still, it’s one of the most innovative experiences I’ve seen in recent memory and trust me, I spend a LOT of time scanning the web for trends in visitor experiences.

I’ll sum up quickly what I think is most effective about Rain Room in three words: primordial, visceral, poetic. Random International takes something that we are all familiar with (rain) and makes it unexpected (ie – inside the Barbican Centre, and a rain that doesn’t make us wet). Conceptually simple, technically flawless. Perfection.

Let’s all get happy with Stefan Sagmeister.

Took a break today from the slog to hit up the Design Exchange and Stefan Sagmeister’s The Happy Show. I wasn’t too sure what to expect. On the one hand, Sagmeister = automatic high expectations. On the other, a thematic show about happiness? Could go either way.

My friend probably summed it up best: “If it doesn’t make me happy I’m gonna punch Sagmeister in the throat!”

True to form it was a nicely designed show utilizing environmental graphics to full effect. It wasn’t so much a philosophical treatise on the nature of happiness (a good thing) as a light musing on the subject. Social scientific facts punctuated by Sagmeister’s perspective on work, creativity and what he’s learned about how to be happy. I think this exhibition will especially resonate with designers, artists and other creative types (I def. overheard a lot of murmurs of agreement), namely those who put their hearts on the line for a project/pay cheque.

It’s a good looking exhibit, there’s candy involved, and there’s a bike-powered interactive. Why the hell not? It runs until March 3, 2013.