A dream 10 years in the making, the architectural proposal for a new Vancouver Art Gallery was unveiled on September 29 to a full house at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. The current heritage courthouse location was originally leased in 1978; however, due to the small space and lacking safety standards, the gallery board of directors began discussing a new home in 2004. The goals were to expand in space as well as meet industry safety standards so that more travelling collections could choose to make a stop in Vancouver. When all the plans are finalized, the gallery expects to break ground in 2017 and finish the building in 2021.
In charge of the new gallery’s execution is Herzog & de Meuron, an internationally acclaimed architectural firm based in Switzerland noted for designing the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games stadium affectionately known as the “Bird’s Nest.” Over the year that negotiations and planning took place, the team learned much about Vancouver and the peninsula in particular. The rich nature surrounding Vancouver was taken into consideration and embodied in the rendering of the new gallery.
Situated beside Queen Elizabeth Theatre, the gallery aims to create an environment of congregation, collaboration, and education in the arts. This will be realized by an open pavilion at the street level. By raising the structure 40 feet into the air, an open area is created for greenery, admission-free exhibitions, and community gatherings. To access the gallery itself, a staircase leads to the lobby where escalators access the building suspended above the pavilion. Complete with a sunken garden and more admission-free galleries, the lobby will include a library and the brand new Institute of Asian Art dedicated to Eastern influences. The lobby will essentially be an appetizer for what is overhead.
The building itself bears resemblance to an Inukshuk, a tribute to the Inuit. At the same time, the blonde wood panelling seems Japanese in spirit. The lower floors, which will greet visitors upon entering the gallery, will house the new 350-seat theatre intended for performance arts, art-instruction classrooms, and a restaurant that overlooks the streets. The gallery itself occupies the top three floors, boasting about 86,000 square feet of exhibition space. Divided by a common area, the space can be subdivided from one massive gallery to four dedicated areas.
Sunlight will be the primary source of illumination thanks to sunroofs and strategically placed windows. The philosophy was to place art in view of the city — in view of a bigger picture. The new Vancouver Art Gallery will host a growing community of artists both local and global. With grounds that will double the space of the old courthouse, the new gallery is well-poised to become the epicentre of artistic culture in Vancouver.
While the overall design has generated much discussion, opinions about it are still divided. The Herzog & de Meuron team and the gallery’s board of directors are invested in bringing nature back into the heart of the city, and therefore chose to clad the structure in wood, but concerns have been raised regarding the durability and future upkeep required to service the building in addition to the general aesthetic of the design. Admittedly, the digital renderings of the concept design, while realistic, are obviously subject to change.