Vancouver Art Gallery Unveils New Design


Vancouver Art Gallery | View across Queen Elizabeth Plaza. © Herzog & de Meuron

On Tuesday, September 29, 2015 the Vancouver Art Gallery presented a conceptual design for a new gallery that will be double the size of its current building in downtown Vancouver. The 310,000-square-foot building is designed serve the Gallery's expanding collection, to support the work of local and international artists, to engage audiences and enrich educational opportunities for lifelong learning, and to advance the city’s reputation as an international centre for contemporary art. 

“Over the past 15 years, our collection has grown by more than 250 percent, attendance has increased 350 percent and membership has increased by 300 percent. The conceptual design for the downtown building responds brilliantly and efficiently to the changing needs of our institution and our community,” Kathleen Bartels, director of the Vancouver Art Gallery, said in a press release.

Swiss-based architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron have designed the space as a symmetrical, upright building with larger volumes concentrated at the top and minimal mass at the bottom, which allow light and air to filter down to an active, open-air courtyard below. The 40,000 square foot courtyard will host art installations, performances, concerts, film screenings and collaborative programs with other cultural organizations.  The design aims to 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 building will feature over 85,000 square feet of exhibition space, with 40,000 square feet of galleries dedicated to the museum's vast collection as well as a new education centre, including a 350-seat auditorium, workshops and a resource centre for research, library services and artist archives. 

The lower levels of the building will be mostly transparent, making many of the Gallery’s activities visible, while the upper levels, which will primarily house exhibition spaces, are more solid and opaque. 

A free gallery, resource centre, café and store will be accessed from the street and courtyard, and a sweeping ceremonial staircase between Cambie Street and the courtyard will lead to the lobby below. A sunken garden will bring nature and light into the lobby and surrounding exhibition spaces. Double-height galleries will 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, a restaurant witha large covered terrace, and the main concourses leading up to exhibition galleries. The building will have an expansive rooftop gallery and terrace.

The architects’ intent is for this vertical building to be constructed out of wood, a material with a long tradition in British Columbia. The material is sustainable and pays homage to the area’s architectural history, including the two-storey wooden row houses that surrounded Larwill Park in the early 20th century. Environmental sustainability of the building is a high priority for the Gallery, which seeks LEED Gold certification.

"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 in a press release. "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 Gallery will raise an estimated $350 million Canadian dollars from public and private sources, including a $50 million endowment to support the expanded cost of operation. In addition to private fundraising, it has received a $50 million gift from the provincial government and the donation of the Larwill Park site by the City of Vancouver. The Gallery’s Board of Trustees has committed $23 million to the first phase of the capital campaign. 

Herzog & de Meuron are collaborating with Vancouver-based Perkins + Will who were selected by the Gallery in 2014 to serve as the local Architect of Record.

For more information about the future of the Vancouver Art Gallery, visit

Vancouver Art Gallery | Gallery Courtyard © Herzog & de Meuron

Vancouver Art Gallery | Gallery level 5 overlooking Queen Elizabeth Plaza and downtown
© Herzog & de Meuron

Vancouver Art Gallery | West Georgia Street at night. © Herzog & de Meuron

Vancouver Art Gallery | Gallery lobby. © Herzog & de Meuron

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