The VAG Reveals Herzog & De Meuron’s Design

The Vancouver Art Gallery today unveiled Herzog & de Meuron’s conceptual design for a new museum building in downtown Vancouver.

The 310,000-square-foot 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 vast 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 Swiss-based international firm of Herzog & de Meuron is renowned for its sensitivity to and history of working with contemporary artists, and for designs that are both highly inventive and responsive to the site, geography and culture of the place for which they are conceived. The architects’ intent is to use wood for the building. The material is sustainable and evokes the architectural history of the region, including the two-storey wooden row houses that surrounded Larwill Park in the early twentieth century. British Columbia is at the forefront of constructing large wood buildings, making it an ideal place for a building of this material.

Image: Herzog & de Meuron / Vancouver Art Gallery

About the Design

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.

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.

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.

A public presentation of the conceptual design by the Gallery’s leadership and the architects, featuring the Honourable Judith Guichon, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, the Honourable Peter Fassbender, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, and His Worship Gregor Robertson, Mayor of Vancouver, will be held on Tuesday, September 29, at 6:30 pm at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Starting September 30, a presentation on the new museum will be on view free of charge at the Gallery, and details of the design will be available online.

Image: Herzog & de Meuron / Vancouver Art Gallery
Image: Herzog & de Meuron / Vancouver Art Gallery
Image: Herzog & de Meuron / Vancouver Art Gallery
Image: Herzog & de Meuron / Vancouver Art Gallery
Image: Herzog & de Meuron / Vancouver Art Gallery