Vancouver Art Gallery unveils Herzog & de Meuron’s conceptual design

The Vancouver Art Gallery today unveiled Herzog & de Meuron’s conceptual design for a new museum building in downtown Vancouver. The 310,000-sq.-ft. building is designed to serve the Gallery’s expanding collection and to support the work of artists from Vancouver, throughout British Columbia and across the world, to engage its growing audiences and enrich educational opportunities for lifelong learning, and to advance Vancouver’s reputation as an international centre for contemporary art.

The new building features over 85,000 square feet of exhibition space—more than doubling its current size—with 40,000 square feet of galleries dedicated to the museum’s collection. It also features a new education centre that includes a 350-seat auditorium, workshops and a resource centre for research, library services and artist archives.

The unveiling of the conceptual design marks the end of the first stage of the building design process, and is intended to describe the context for the Gallery building within the city, and the character and capacity of the new Gallery’s interior and exterior spaces.

The design by Swiss-based international firm of Herzog & de Meuron for the Gallery’s 230-foot-high building comprises seven publicly accessible floors, plus two below-grade levels for storage and parking. There is also additional space for future expansion. The lower levels are mostly transparent, making many of the Gallery’s activities visible, while the upper levels, which primarily house exhibition spaces, are more solid and opaque. The architects’ intent is to use wood for the building, evoking the region both broadly and nearby, such as the two-storey wooden row houses that surrounded Larwill Park in the early twentieth century.

“Over the past 15 years, our collection has grown by more than 250 percent, attendance has increased 350 percent and membership has increased by 300 percent,” said Kathleen Bartels, Director of the Vancouver Art Gallery. “The conceptual design for the downtown building responds brilliantly and efficiently to the changing needs of our institution and our community.”

The Gallery will raise an estimated $350 million from public and private sources, including a $50 million endowment to support the expanded cost of operation. In addition to private fundraising, it has received a $50 million gift from the Province of British Columbia and the generous donation of the Larwill Park site by the City of Vancouver. The unveiling of the conceptual design of the Gallery marks the launch of the public phase of the Capital Campaign.  Pritzker Prize winners Herzog & de Meuron have designed the Vancouver Art Gallery’s new museum as a symmetrical, upright building combining opaque and transparent surfaces, with larger volumes concentrated at the top and minimal mass at the bottom. By lifting the bulk of the structure high above the street, the design allows light and air to filter down to an active, open-air courtyard below. The building includes a one-storey structure on the ground level that frames the courtyard and houses free exhibition space as well as a café, store, and a resource centre for research, library services and artist archives. The expansive 40,000-sq.-ft., open-air courtyard, which will be crisscrossed daily by museum-goers and neighbourhood pedestrians, will host art installations, performances, concerts, film screenings, and collaborative programs with other cultural organizations. In this way, the design will transform an underused site at West Georgia and Cambie Streets, the only block of vacant public land left in downtown Vancouver.

“The urbanistic concept is based on the contrast between the low-rise framing along the street block and the taller and more sculptural building in the middle of an open and accessible garden and square,” said Jacques Herzog.  “The low-rise wooden building along the street is inspired by how the streets in Vancouver were built in earlier times. The modest, almost domestic scale will enhance the character of openness and visibility for everyone.”

The building offers a variety of galleries of different heights and proportions, natural light conditions and views. Outside, generous setbacks and overhangs create covered as well as open terrace spaces on different levels, allowing visitors to enjoy views of the city and the North Shore Mountains.

Visitors will enter the Gallery via the courtyard, which is framed by a continuous low-rise street front building and is accessible from all four sides. The cantilevered roofs of the low-rise structure and the main building offer ample covered outdoor space, while at the same time allowing sun to filter in during the spring and summer. The environmental sustainability of the building is a high priority for the Gallery, which seeks LEED Gold certification and plans to employ other sustainability features that will be developed during the later design phases.


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