Vancouver Art Gallery
Vancouver, Canada
Project 2014 – planned completion 2020

The Site
Larwill Park, the site of the new Vancouver Art Gallery, is one of the last unbuilt city blocks on the Downtown Peninsula and is situated seven blocks east of the current Gallery’s home on West Georgia. It is surrounded by public institutions and important as a connector between the west and the east of the peninsula. The site has much potential to form a strong link from Yaletown and Central Downtown to Gastown and Chinatown, also because new businesses, cafes and popular restaurants have begun to pop up in the area.

The Architecture
The new Vancouver Art Gallery is a sculptural, symmetrical and upright building. From an urban standpoint, it is a classical type: a recognizable public building along a prominent boulevard.

The new Vancouver Art Gallery has a very low and a very high component. The exceptionally low component addresses human scale and street life, whilst the high one offers public visibility within the vertically dominated Downtown Peninsula.
The low building densifies and activates the public realm around the new Vancouver Art Gallery by providing an active and accessible, continuous street front. The building contains entrances to the courtyard from all four surrounding streets. It also responds to the topography along West Georgia: The building’s roofline follows the slope of the street, resulting in the building which is consistently low throughout. In scale and materiality, it echoes the low wooden structures of early Vancouver, including those that framed Larwill Park until their demolition in the 1950s.
The courtyard is open to everybody, an urban space where museum-goers and others crisscross and encounter one another daily. On the other hand, it can also be a place for a variety of artistic practices and experiences, from art installations to performances to concerts and evening cinema programs. The cantilevered roofs of the one-storey structure and the main building rising above the courtyard offer ample covered outdoor space, both needed and welcomed during the relatively mild but wet Vancouver winters. At the same time the courtyard gets enough sun in spring and summer, an equally important factor to ensure an enjoyable outdoor space in British Columbia. The Gallery courtyard preserves the powerful legacy of Larwill Park as an active civic space.
Exhibition galleries (one of which is free to the public), the Resource Centre for research, library services and artist archives, a café and store are situated around the courtyard. They can all be accessed not only from the courtyard but from the street as well. The Gallery lobby below the courtyard is accessed by a sweeping ceremonial staircase between Cambie Street, the courtyard and the lobby. A suite of galleries and education studios unfold around the lobby. A densely planted sunken garden brings nature and light into the lobby and the galleries, while some other double-height galleries rise up to street level, allowing for another form of daylight and even views into them from the street.
The tall building is an upright symmetrical figure, sculpted to express its inner life and to respond to the local climate. The building rests on four cores, rising 40 feet above the courtyard. The arrangement of the vertical stack allows the sun to reach the courtyard level by minimizing the mass at the bottom and maximizing it at the top. Generous setbacks and overhangs alternate creating covered as well as open terrace spaces on different levels.
The lower levels are mostly transparent. The Auditorium with its lobby and the Gallery’s offices on the 2nd and 3rd floors, the restaurant with its large covered terrace on the 4th floor and the main concourses leading up to the exhibition spaces all animate the lower portion of the building, making the Gallery’s activities visible in the surrounding city. The upper levels primarily house the galleries and are therefore more opaque and solid. Precisely placed openings allow people to look into the galleries from outside and to look out at the city from inside.
A variety of art spaces are distributed throughout the museum. Large suites are located both around the below grade lobby and at levels 5 and 6. Some smaller exhibition spaces are dispersed around the courtyard and at the top roof terrace on level 7. The upper levels also feature education studios with easy access to the galleries. The galleries differ in height, proportion and size. All gallery levels provide natural light and views to either the courtyard, the neighbourhood or the city and the spectacular landscape beyond. The variety of gallery spaces responds to the need for specificity and difference to display a collection as multifaceted as that of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Secondly, the variety addresses the wide range of anticipated temporary exhibitions, and takes into account the many forms of artistic practice in our times and beyond.
Wood is the material of the city that Vancouver once was. Precedents and expertise in the use of wood abound in Vancouver and British Columbia. Unique for a building of this type and size, wood instantly generates a sense of familiarity and human scale. The striking sculptural stack of the large institutional building is softened; the wood enables it to age and change over time, in contrast to the conventionally “clean” museum.
Herzog & de Meuron, 2015


Luis Fernández-Galiano (Ed.):  Arquitectura Viva Monografias. Herzog & de Meuron 2013-2017.

Vol. No. 191-192, Madrid, Arquitectura Viva SL, 12.2016.