Nearly three years after Herzog & de Meuron revealed the “final” design of the 300,000-square-foot new home for the Vancouver Art Gallery, the project has received a $100 million boost and yet another overhaul—and the two are intrinsically linked.
On November 4, the celebrated British Columbian art museum was gifted $100 million (Canadian) by the Audain Foundation toward the construction of its new home at the Chan Centre for the Visual Arts (named after the $40 million donated by the Chan family in 2019) at the former site of Larwill Park between Cambie and Beatty streets in downtown Vancouver. The donation is the largest cash amount given to an art museum in Canada’s history, and coincides with the institution’s 90th anniversary.
However, as a precondition, English-born home builder, art collector, and foundation chairman Michael Audain reportedly necessitated a design update that would more closely account for feedback from First Nations peoples, as the new building will sit on their ancestral lands. Indigenous artists Debra Sparrow, Chepximiya Siyam’ Janice George, Skwetsimeltxw Willard ‘Buddy’ Joseph, and Angela George have been acting as art and design consultants since March of this year. The translucent fluted glass facade originally proposed to wrap the timber superstructure has since been scrapped in favor of a tight basket weave mesh that recalls another recent Coast Salish-inspired project—the First Nations-only social housing project at 1766 Frances Street that received approval earlier this February.
“The new Vancouver Art Gallery—from its conception and design—will reflect a Coast Salish world view,” said Joseph, who also serves as the Vancouver Art Gallery Elder-in-residence. “The rich exterior expression is much more than a design; it represents spiritual energy and protection.”
The new facade design arose after a series of meetings between tribal consultants, the museum, and Herzog & de Meuron, but aside from its cultural significance will also act as a passive solar shade. This will help the Vancouver Art Gallery at the Chan Centre for the Visual Arts hit its target as the first Passive House-certified art museum in North America.
Aside from the project’s sustainability bona fides, the new museum tower is expected to contain 80,000 square feet of exhibition space, more than double what’s currently available to the Vancouver Art Gallery, as well as a theater, research center, library, artists’ studios, a visual arts-focused preschool and daycare, accommodations for visiting artists, and a 40,000-square-foot public courtyard. According to the museum, the Centre will also hold the “Institute of Asian Art, a new Centre for Art and Communication, and a multi-purpose Indigenous Community House.”
The Vancouver office of Perkins&Will is serving as executive architect. Audain’s donation brings the museum within spitting distance of its funding goal, with only $160 million of the new building’s $400 million cost remaining. The City of Vancouver has already donated the waterfront-adjacent land for the museum at Larwill Park (now a parking lot), and the new complex could break ground as early as 2022.
The Vancouver Art Gallery, currently the largest public art museum by building size in Western Canada, has been housed in a neoclassical former provincial courthouse at Robson Square (several blocks west of the forthcoming Chan Centre for the Visual Arts) since 1983. Arthur Erickson renovated the historic space prior to museum’s relocation from its longtime Art Deco digs on West Georgia Street.