The Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) has outgrown its current home connected to Robson Square. For years now there has been discussion of moving the art gallery to a new location with a state of the art, starchitect designed stand alone building. However, such a daring venture will cost a lot of money, something the VAG has yet to come up with. Furthermore, the site proposed, at Cambie in Georgia (currently a parking lot), could be put to better use for commercial office purposes, something Vancouver will eventually need more of.
So this leaves the VAG in a bit of a pickle. Enter a proposal that real estate marketer Bob Rennie has backed, a concept that divides the proposed VAG construction budget into a major renovation of the current VAG facility and 3 phased satellite galleries. In addition to the new galleries, a portion of the overall budget would be used to create an Arts Walk, linking the satellite galleries through the city streets and seawall. An interesting proposal, that if done right has a lot of merit and can bring major art exhibitions to other parts of the city.
A look at the 4 sites proposal with connecting art walks
Phase 1: Vancouver Art Gallery Gastown, Char Gallery
Located in Gastown the Char Gallery will house the Historical Canadian collection. Gastown is already a magnet for visitors to Vancouver and yet offers little in the way of cultural destination, it’s more of a kitschy tourist shop destination oh and the steam clock of course. The 4 sites proposal places the very important historic Canadian collection in a location prime for visitors to our city. The proposed Char Gallery will be located at the north end of Carrall Street just off Water Street. The proposed entrance leads to a gallery that bridges over the railway tracks connecting with Crab Park. The north end of the gallery will have spectacular views to the park and the North Shore Mountains and offer a great location for a gallery restaurant.
The concept also includes a way to use the new gallery as a bridge to the park without entering the gallery. This offers a dual benefit to the community and a better connection for Gastown to the water. By using the airspace over the rail tracks the solution uniquely captures space that is currently vastly underutilized.
This gallery will also offer a large storage facility under the Gallery bridge and located along the service road to the north of the rail tracks. The result is an exceptional service access to serve the entire VAG storage needs.
Phase 2: Vancouver Art Gallery Granville Bridge, Truss Gallery
This is the most interesting part of the 4 sites proposal. Art Gallery under the bridge. The Truss gallery will be built into the underside of the Granville Bridge. This project involves working within and adapting the existing bridge truss; a feat that is both possible and not as expensive as one might assume. The gallery would be built as a large tube that connects downtown Vancouver to Granville Island with a pedestrian friendly covered link and a covered unenclosed plaza for art and public events. The key word being covered. The plaza for art and events is something that was also envision by BIG architects when planning the soon to be built top heavy, twisting, Beach and Howe tower.
The gallery spaces would be mostly located above Granville Island and would be accessed either from the seawall on the downtown side of False Creek or from elevators and escalators from Granville Island proper. As Emily Carr looks to its future and possible move, the intent is to preserve a strong arts connection for Granville and do so in an inventive new space that we feel would create a fantastic and entirely unique gallery experience in the world.
Challenges aside, the overall concept is bold and quite special for our city. Just as repurposing a power plant into the Tate Modern in London has become one of the most celebrated galleries in the world, we would have a signature solution that only Vancouver can offer; a gallery over False Creek, with an incredible view to the mountains and skyline and all found in the truss of an existing bridge.
Phase 3: Vancouver Art Gallery, Main building at current site
The existing building is an architectural marvel in a city that has so few. It would be a shame to see the Vancouver Art Gallery move from its current location, that is why one of the 4 sites will be the existing VAG site.
There are no doubt challenges with the existing building but by removing some of the unique pressures on the building like storage and by opening up the north side of the gallery to the public, we feel the gallery has enormous potential to become much more than it is today.
Our proposal is to build under the north plaza with new gallery spaces daylit with walkable skylights above. We propose to open the main entrance stairs off Georgia and create a public thoroughfare through the Rotunda to Robson. This will increase the public’s use and engagement of the building without entering the collection . To offset the loss of this important main floor gallery area we would build a new glass gallery with 3 floors on Robson connecting back into the existing gallery floors. This new gallery would add a restaurant and gallery store on Robson to increase use of these important amenities. It would also provide the much need larger flexible galleries necessary for traveling shows and the existing collection.
Phase 4: Vancouver Art Gallery Stanley Park, Blowdown Gallery
The Blowdown Gallery at Stanley Park will house sculptures and photography. The proposed gallery is situated below the East Lawn of Stanley Park.
Although it is considered contentious to build a major new building in Stanley Park, we believe that we should all ask the question: why? The proposed site is comprised of cultivated lawn, not virgin forest, and is a largely un-programmed area of the park. A landscape-conscious gallery here has the potential to engage with existing public pathways and programming, and add value to the Park as a whole.
The proposed design for the Blowdown Gallery utilizes the natural topography and the repeated history of major storms to sculpt the earth into a seemingly randomized geometry, reminiscent of criss-crossed fallen trees. By embedding the Gallery into the earth with sunken courtyards and landscaping across the roofed areas, the building not only brings daylight into the interior gallery spaces, but also disappears from above, preserving views through the park, to the North Shore mountains and to the City skyline.
To create an experience unique to Vancouver, the structure of the gallery would be comprised of trees uprooted by major area storms and rain gardens would illustrate the movement of water and emphasize contemporary sculptures. We have shown ramps down into the gallery’s that are paired with water stairs that feed into courtyard ponds for the display of sculpture.
The result is a mixing of galleries for photography and large works with indoor and outdoor sculpture galleries.