AZURE - June 2019 - The Workspace Issue - Cover
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The new, glass-clad renderings of the Vancouver Art Gallery are all © Herzog & de Meuron
The new, glass-clad renderings of the Vancouver Art Gallery are all © Herzog & de Meuron

The much anticipated new Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG), designed by Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron (with Perkins + Will as executive architects) is making headlines once again for changes to the gallery’s design, and a private funding donation of $40 million from the philanthropic Chan family (the University of British Columbia’s Chan Centre for the Performing Arts is named after them). The entire funding target is $350 million.

The donation, said to be “the largest-ever single private donation to an arts and culture organization in British Columbia.” After some initial reporting that the gallery would be named after the donors, it has been clarified that the institution’s overarching name will remain the Vancouver Art Gallery, while the new building, a theatre and a library will each be named after separate donors.

Design changes, by Herzog & de Meuron, are significant, in that it will no longer be an “all wood” building, but incorporate a glass façade for the top half of the “umbrella” shaped structure, which will both protect the lower, wooden façade from inclement weather and better complement the neighbourhood (Cambie St. and West Georgia) of residential and commercial glass towers.

“When it was to be an all-wood building, it was a bit more showy,” says Simon Demeuse, partner at Herzog & de Meuron, and project director for the new Vancouver Art Gallery. “It was in the middle of these glass towers, on the peninsula, and it was kind of ‘look at me’.”

The new design, says Demeuse, uses wood and glass in a complementary way that reflects the importance of both materials in Vancouver’s architectural history. “For us, it is of course a material change, but we think it’s actually more contemporary to combine these two materials,” he says. The glass façade, says Demeuse, will be made of “glazed split-glass logs”, referred to as such because they have the same dimension as “big logs of wood”.

“These semicircular glass elements give a very soft appearance to the building,” he says, “and a certain depth to the building.” Of the funding donation, Demeuse says: “Everybody is hopeful that this is a game changer because it’s such a significant contribution.”

From the initial design announcement, the building has aroused controversy – its original design nodded to the emergence of wood as a building material yet many felt it would be unsuitable for the West Coast climate. The glass treatment is also sparking commentary. In a Facebook thread about the new renderings, the Vancouver Art Gallery notes, “Wood will still be a key element in the design, inside and outside the building.”

An earlier version of this article did not mention executive architecture firm Perkins + Will.

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