It’s unclear what Ludwig Mies van der Rohe would have made of artist Aude Moreau’s latest large-scale project: the use of the modernist master’s landmark Toronto-Dominion Centre as a backdrop for a giant illuminated message that plays with one of his most famous aphorisms. Given Mies’s exacting precision and penchant for simple yet meaningful gestures, however, it’s likely he would been at least intrigued by the process and calculation behind Moreau’s ambitious Labour Day Weekend light show.
From September 2 to 4, the words “LESS IS MORE OR” appeared in glowing 30-metre-tall letters each evening on five of the TD Centre’s towers. Wrapping around the facade of each building, the words could be read as “less is more” (Mies’s famous axiom about the beauty of restraint) or “more or less.” The letters were formed by the raising and lowering of blinds on more than 6,000 windows across the top 10 floors of the towers.
To pull off the feat, Montreal-based Moreau planned for nearly a year, collaborating with a host of partners. TD Centre and its owner, Cadillac Fairview, sponsored the project as part of the building complex’s 50th anniversary. Five electrical contractors donated their services to temporarily reconfigure the buildings’ automated lighting systems, while a crew of staff and volunteers opened and closed the window blinds to Moreau’s specifications.
The artist, who documented the nighttime spectacle through photographs and video taken from both nearby buildings and a helicopter, has created other illuminated skyscraper projects in cities across North America, including Montreal, New York and Los Angeles. Her works, according to a project statement, “engages architecture from within,” exploring “the connection between history and the contemporary, the social and the geographic, architecture and power.”
By adding the word “or” to Mies’s well-known pronouncement on minimalism, Moreau’s Toronto project could be viewed as a veiled critique of the sentiment and of modernism’s legacy. To be sure, the TD Centre is a masterpiece, its meticulous order and understated sumptuousness proving another of Mies’s beliefs that “God is in the details.” Over the ensuing decades, however, less scrupulous builders than Mies have progressively misappropriated the less-is-more ethos as an excuse for cheap materials and less rigorous design. By her own admission, Moreau aimed with Less is More Or to “complicate the phrase, leaving it open to a multiplicity of viewpoints.”
For Mies, of course, clarity was more important than multiplicity. And his healthy ego would likely have bristled at the thought of his buildings being used as someone else’s canvas. But when it comes to thoughtful, even audacious design executed with military-like precision, the master architect and the artist behind Less is More Or have more in common than not.