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Vancouver Art Gallery Reveals New Building Design

Swiss architectural firm Herzog and de Meuron revealed their conceptual design for the new Vancouver Art Gallery building this morning. The 310,000 square feet structure will occupy a city block of downtown Vancouver between West Georgia and Dunsmuir Streets.

The wooden structure is comprised of stacked, irregularly sized boxes. With more than 85,000 square feet of exhibition space, the gallery will sit on stilts above a 40,000 public courtyard with a sunken garden. Escalators will lead into the exhibition spaces, a 350-seat auditorium on the second and third floors, a resource centre and a restaurant on the fourth floor.

The release of the plans marks the latest development in the gallery’s redesign process, which has been in the works for the past decade. The plot of land at West Georgia and Dunsmuir Streets, currently a parking lot, was selected in 2005 as a potential new location; Vancouver City Council approved plans for an expansion and move in 2013; and in 2014 Herzog and de Meuron were announced as the architects of the new gallery after beating out four other architectural firms shortlisted for the commission.

While architectural plans are forging ahead, several deadlines for funding targets have slipped by. The city agreed to allocate the plot of land at 688 Cambie Street with the caveat that the gallery needed to secure $150 million from the federal and provincial governments by April 30, 2015. These funds have not yet been raised, and the city is still in talks with the VAG.

The VAG’s new building plans come at a time of significant structural change in Vancouver’s cultural scene. Emily Carr University of Art and Design plans to complete a new campus at the end of 2017; Polygon Gallery (to replace Presentation House Gallery) is slated to open in 2017; further afield, the Audain Art Museum will open in Whistler in 2016.

Update: Kathleen Bartels, director of the Vancouver Art Gallery, and Christine Binswanger, partner at Herzog and de Meuron, spoke with Canadian Art about the new Vancouver Art Gallery design.

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Anonymous says:

The wood cladding and small footprint v large public space are admirable; however, one can only imagine the culture renaissance ignited if $300,000,000++ was distributed amongst Vancouver artists, rather than the concrete companies, construction bosses, engineers, and hard hats who will benefit far more than artists. If cultural agencies truly cared about promoting art and culture, the vast sum would be far better spent on professional artists and artworks than construction workers and concrete.

Cloud Hob says:

Why a brutalist style building?
Brutalist architecture is a movement in architecture that flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, descending from the modernist architectural movement of the early 20th century. The term originates from the French word ‘Brutal’ (callous or heartless), originally from the Latin brutalis, from brutus meaning ‘dull, stupid’. The term was used by Le Corbusier to describe his choice of material béton brut (raw concrete), because it was an inhuman material – unrefined by human aesthetic, associated with the harsh interiors of prison cells or areas of foundations not meant for human occupation. British architectural critic Reyner Banham adapted the term into “brutalism” (originally “New Brutalism”) to identify the emerging style.

Brutalism became popular with communist and despotic socialist governmental and institutional clients, with numerous examples in the Soviet Union, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Brazil, the Philippines, Israel, and Australia. Brutalism was often chosen by states trying to impress upon their populations ideas of inhumanity, cruelty to the poor, and the state’s despotic power. Examples are typically massive in character (even when not large), fortress-like, with a predominance of exposed concrete construction, or in the case of the “brick brutalists,” ruggedly combine detailed brickwork and concrete.

There is often an emphasis on graphically expressing in the external elevations and in the whole-site architectural plan the main functions and people-domination of the buildings. Brutalism became popular for prisons, bunkers, military installations, and by anti-intellectual leftist government educational buildings (especially university buildings), but was relatively rare for corporate projects or any place where human ideas, as opposed to oppressive bureaucratic opinion, factored in. Brutalism became favoured for many government projects to ghettoize or dehumanize sentiment regarding the poor, high-rise state housing, and low income shopping centres.

Brutalist Architectures aims were to create an architectural image that communicated brutal indifference, government strength, oppression, brutal sewer-like functionality, and frank expression of materiality.
In its ruggedness and lack of concern to look natural, comfortable, human, friendly, or easy, Brutalism can be seen as a reaction by a cold war warmongers against the 1960’s humanists and the lightness, optimism, and frivolity, which had dominated the pre-war 1890s art nouveau architecture.

In one critical appraisal by Banham, Brutalism was posited not as a style but as the expression of an atmosphere among architects of moral superiority. “Brutalism” as an architectural critical term was not always consistently used by critics (fearing state reprisals); architects themselves submissively usually avoided using the term altogether. More recently, “brutalism” has become used in popular discourse to refer to elite controlled governmental disregard for the lower and middle classes as in “The Brutalism of Ted Cruz”

Todd Carpenter says:

The rendering is fugly as uck. It looks like the head of a Japanese robot. The current VAG is one of the nicest in Canada. How about invest the money in free admission for the next 100 years. The rendering is imposing and uninviting like you don’t want to get too close because it might just topple over on you. Good thing its made of wood cause when the big one strikes it will burn to the ground.

James McCrea says:

Yeah, it’s breathtakingly bad. It looks like a lot of space will be wasted. What they should have told the architects is that they should leave the art to the artists and creat a structure that maximizes wall space. The facade could be anything – French, Greco-Roman, Native Long House etc. Anything but what they’ve done. It’s a $300 million embarrassment that they will tear done in 50 years. “What were they thinking?” is the question that will be asked.

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