Herzog & de Meuron, recipient of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, 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-square-foot, 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—into a vibrant new cultural destination.
“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.
The Gallery also plans to dedicate exhibition space on the ground floor to its Institute of Asian Art, which was launched in autumn 2014, to further develop exhibitions, public programs, the collection, and scholarship devoted to the visual arts of Asia, with a particular emphasis on contemporary art from China, India, Japan and Korea.
Along with dedicated education spaces including an auditorium for lectures, performances and events, the expanded museum also houses many new features including greatly expanded storage and art preparation areas; a conservation lab that will be a resource for the Province; and an expanded store, a café and restaurant.
“The project for the new Vancouver Art Gallery has a civic dimension that can contribute to the life and identity of the city, in which many artists of international reputation live and work. It will be a powerful statement to construct this large building out of wood, a material with a long tradition in British Columbia,” said Christine Binswanger, Partner in Charge for the Gallery project, at Herzog & de Meuron.
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 Gallery’s free gallery, resource centre, café and store can be accessed from the courtyard and the street, while a sweeping ceremonial staircase between Cambie Street and the courtyard leads to the lobby below. A sunken garden brings nature and light into the lobby and surrounding exhibition spaces. Double-height galleries rise up to street level to provide daylight and allow passersby to see inside.
As visitors ascend from the lobby, they will be able to access the auditorium, the restaurant with its large covered terrace that overlooks the city, and the main concourses leading up to exhibition galleries. The museum building is capped by an expansive rooftop gallery and terrace.
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.