April 5, 2017

Vancouver Art Gallery Asks Feds for $100 Million for New Building

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The Vancouver Sun reporter Kevin Griffin  gives the latest on the Vancouver Art Gallery’s missive to build the proposed Herzog & de Meuron-designed Vancouver Art Gallery building. This building has attracted a lot of comment due to its blocky appearance, the lack of any treatment on the ground plane, and the fact it has no interaction with any of the other buildings on the streetscape.
But never mind that-Anne Webb the associate director of the gallery discusses why this building architect and design are best. “I have followed the career of Herzog & de Meuron from the early days. I was thrilled to learn that they were chosen to be the architects. I feel that they are among the best architects for museum buildings because they put art and artists first. They work with artists and understand artists.”
Nice that the building is great for artists, but is it great for the community? And since the Vancouver Art Gallery is asking the federal government for $100 million towards building this behemoth, is it okay for citizens to want a design they can support too? One that has some streetscape interaction, and is inviting?
Ms. Webb was formerly managing director of contemporary culture for the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, which built the $300 million dollar controversial The Crystal addition  by starchitect Daniel Libeskind. Despite the estimates of 1.4 million annual visit projections, that didn’t happen, and are substantially less at about one million annually. The visitor complaints include the higher ticket price, an inhospitable entrance, and a confusing ground orientation.
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The Crystal-addition on Royal Ontario Museum
The submission to the Federal government states that the “goal is to raise $350 million for the new gallery: $300 million for construction and $50 million for an endowment.” The Province has already contributed $50 million and the City of Vancouver provided the land, valued at $100 million.  Privately, the gallery must raise $150 million dollars-$30 million has been raised so far.
Price Tags has already commented on locally developed options by well-known and respected architects to rejuvenate the current Vancouver Art Gallery site, which is truly the public space and meeting place in the city. But that location and concept has been dismissed. The Federal submission reads: “The renovated provincial courthouse has served the gallery and the community well over the past 30 years but, faced with an aging, deteriorating and overcrowded facility, the time has come for a new Vancouver Art Gallery.”
Stay Tuned.
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  1. This would be the perfect situation for a design contest with the winner chosen by the public – a la the Vancouver Public Library. The chosen design was pooh-poohed by the “elites” but is well loved by everyone else. The proposed Art Gallery design seems to be exactly the opposite.

    1. Yes, the VPL contest finalist models did the mall crawl. But there was no architectural discourse, something you dismiss as elitist. The public who voted therein never heard any serious analysis of this $200+ million dollar city expenditure. Hence the disassociation with our own history, replaced by a cartoon Roman Coliseum façade, a toned-down Vegas experience. And the cold, windswept leftover space called a “plaza” doesn’t function at all as a decent public open space on the north side and has only one material (pink concrete brick), and never reaches its potential on the south.
      I am happy, though, that the professional librarians had sway on the interior which offers a pretty decent library practicality sandwiched by a dramatic atrium experience. Thank gawd the public didn’t vote on that.

      1. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get VPL design 2.0, where the facade starts at street level and is built as a walkway to the roof of the building, where there is a public garden and plaza. It would have been a nice addition to the public space in Vancouver.

    2. I agree with Alex. The library has two plazas and an atrium, none of which are vibrant or inviting. There is a horrid passage connecting with the corner of Georgia and Hamilton (on the way from the train). The inside bothers me the most. It wastes the windows. In many places the shelves (and ceiling vaults) run parallel, instead of perpendicular, chopping up the space and light. When I first saw it, I expected it to be great. I borrow materials there fairly often, but I have no desire to spend time there.
      If you ask me, Burnaby got it right with McGill, which is by far my favourite. McGill’s shelves run perpendicular to the windows. It is glorious and well-loved. (Though it too has a failed open space out front. It’s so bad that as I recall the folks who do tai chi there in the mornings prefer the pathway.)

      1. Regarding the atrium, it does double duty as a display space and small event venue. I do agree with the programming elements you mentioned, but overall it was long overdue from the Burrard x Robson branch which was so inadequate fro years. No doubt librarians will have some great criticisms too.
        Thumbs up on McGill too. That one came out of James Cheng’s office.
        The Coliseum references plastered on the VPL exterior was so unfortunate it made the Outrage page of the Architectural Record back in the day. It is especially galling when contrasted to the other two finalists, one which would have pushed a linear mid-rise office building tight against Hamilton and contrasted with a giant semi-circular library swooping out to Homer, leaving a huge sunny open space all around. No cheesy, immature PoMo references to ancient Rome.
        The other was a proposed process by Richard Henriques, not a design. HIs obsession was history, which along with light and site were his guiding principles toward representative form. His maquette consisted of a jewel box that opened to the first platted plan of the block.

      2. The plaza on Robson and Homer seems to work quite well, always lots of people. Ditto with the atrium. The only major fail is the plaza at Georgia and Homer which is desolate. The office tower should have been there, with a south facing plaza kittycorner from the QE Theatre.
        It’s funny that the same people can criticize the updated historicism of Safdie’s design, yet praise the equally faux existing Court House/Art Gallery.

        1. @ Bob
          Rattenbury’s neoclassical references in the old courthouse (now VAG) have a place in Canada’s and Vancouver’s history. The Roman Coliseum does not. “Updated historicism” …. LOL! Under that definition we’d get a plastic Eiffel Tower on Richards.
          There are good reasons why a large part of Post Modernism was widely disliked and is now gone. Richard Henriques would have given Vancouver a far more mature library design if he was given the chance.
          The south side amphitheatre suffers from a lack of adequate space for decent performances and seating, and it uses a single material ad nauseum. The only trees in sight are on the adjacent streets, with the exception of some plop planters on Georgia.

        2. They’re more than references Alex. Rattenbury took the language of the long dead Roman Empire and used it to justify colonial power (to quote your fellow travellers on the left). The Parthenon and Roman temples have no relation to Vancouver but Post modernism was an attempt to update that historicism, without being so literal. Fine if its not to your taste, but the public liked it.

        3. I doubt majority of the public who commented positively on the cartoonish facade had library memberships or understood the design process. The architectural and urban design community, from students to elders, were almost unanimously appalled and had very reasoned written objections, which obviously didn’t register with Gordon Campbell who was seeking votes from a public that classifies culture and informed design as the stuff that emanates from sports palaces, malls, casinos and trash reality TV.
          The other two finalists did not pull cheap references from ancient times, and would not likely have issued arrogant, paternalistic statements about giving Vancouver a history equivalent in value to a cheap re-gifted xmas present thrown onto the table at an office party.
          Nineteenth and early 20th century neoclassical architecture here borrowed from the Greeks and Romans, but they were executed with authentic, high quality materials (e.g. granite. limestone, sandstone, fine woods, par excellence interior millwork, terrazzo, marble, brass, bronze …) and designed and programed for the uses of the day (courthouses, banks, legislatures …) from the outside in, and many have been converted to public uses like the VAG. So much for colonialism.
          You also missed the great Art Deco period which used these references in 20th Century terms and created a very unique and highly treasured style where local references are in counterpoint.
          I’m at the VPL about 50 times a year, and once I’m inside I can forget about the sensationalistic exterior treatment. The library function still works, though it’s not perfect. But there was a major effort on behalf of the architect to ignore Vancouver and plop down a pre-determined, highly simplistic external image probably dreamed up while visiting Disneyland.
          Your defence of the VPL and the cheesiest of Post Modern renditions indicates that you really don’t expect much in terms of building a beautiful city with buildings and plazas that mean something to our society and regional history. There are interesting reasons why we no longer have architectural critics publishing their opinions in the local press on a regular basis. Have you even noticed their absence?

      3. After visiting the library, I should correct myself: I was wrong about the bookshelves. They run towards the windows. The problem is the ceiling vaults (and the lights suspended from them), which run crosswise, ruining the effect.

        1. The indirect ceiling vault lighting may not be supplemented enough by direct task lighting too. If you’re lucky you’ll get a window table which does make a difference I noticed on our dark winter days. I’ve also noticed a great upswelling of library use in the last 10 years, a good sign but something the librarians need to plan for.

    3. I gotta say, guys, from where I’m standing your negative comments about the library fly in the face of public enthusiasm for it. And that’s pretty much why I used the term “elitist”.

      1. As I said, the design community and library members had no say in the contest. I don’t recall there even being a jury of peers. Therefore our own rich history was ignored while the winning architect arrogantly “gave Vancouver a history” (Moshe Safde’s own words) with a cardboard veneer from Rome. Gordon Campbell did the mall poll and made the final selection. The “people” (no doubt the vast majority without a library card) prefer Vegas. What’s next, a fake pyramid on Robson?
        This is not a good process for public projects costing hundreds of millions.

        1. Who in this city would pay them?
          This is now a métier that is perceived by most publishers to be unnecessary with only a niche market interest and can potentially cause awkward conflicts with property promoters and advertisers that might take umbrage should any criticism be unfavourable to one of their projects.

      2. I’m not sure what enthusiasm you’re talking about. It seems to me that the ultimate test is usage, not aesthetics. If the building attracted crowds of happy people, I would call it a success regardless of my personal tastes. But the plazas and atrium are hollow and empty. Even if people say nice things about the building, the fact that they don’t want to be there speaks volumes. That is truly elitist: spaces built to be seen but not touched.

  2. This is such a menacing building. Very unfriendly, like some alien space ship touched down across from the QE Theatre. It reinforces every cliché about the remoteness of high art and does nothing to relate to the street or draw people in from it.

  3. This thing needs to go through a multiple-layered public architectural and urban design critique with a group generously populated by local practitioners and informed citizens who understand regional history (is there any expression at all of our deep, 14,000-year old powerful indigenous people’s history?) along with the urban design process and practical art conservation and museum functions?
    I don’t have any issue with large public and private expenditures on culture. Parisians and millions of visitors to Paris expect a very extensive expression of their culture in part through a top drawer collection of galleries and museums. Are we so insecure in our place on the planet that we’ll treasure stadium roofs and ugly mega bridges over a decent art museum? I do have an issue with that kind of money placed on this one pre-selected, un-critiqued design, though.

  4. There are no doubt very good reasons why Michael Audain broke from the VAG just before this imported design was revealed, and built an exquisite art gallery in Whistler to showcase his extensive collection of aboriginal screens and masks and other Canadian and European originals.
    The exterior uses purposeful dark metal cladding to blend into the grove of conifers that surrounds it. The building is also respectfully raised off the forest floor which was replanted after construction. The feeling inside has a masterfully subtle and powerful use of simple materials, and it exudes a feeling of reverence about indigenous culture.
    Before anyone cavalierly uses the term “elitist” about the Whistler gallery, know that it is open to anybody including dreadlocked mountain bikers and starving students for a reasonable cover charge, and that the scale is entirely in keeping with the setting.
    https://textingthecity.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/img_2942.jpg?w=547&h=730

  5. There is a very good suggestion to expand the VAG under the Georgia plaza.
    There will not be a poll to see what the people think because they would overwhelmingly support any plan that keeps the VAG where it is! This is another reason they are going to Ottawa with their hand out. They just have not had the community support and funding they hoped for.
    Herzog and de Meuron have also done some very unfriendly buildings. Walk around the deYong in SFO, it is so stark and cold. OK inside. Walk around the Convention Centre in Barcelona, you will be in one of the only plazas that is devoid of people in town. Yuck!

      1. (1) Over $1000 a sq ft ?. The going rate to build high rise condo’s is about $300. a sq ft (2). Build it as a P3 sandwiched between condo’s that have most of the windows. (3) Underground pedestrian tunnel access from skytrain where local artists sell their art.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. For San Franciscans, the De Young stands as an ugly rusting barrack on the site of what once a beautiful Beaux Arts building. Like another H and deM building, the entrance is as an after-thought, barely visible under the heavy brown copper skin. The new DeYoung also has a tower that, when viewed from the back of building, bears an unfortunate resemblance to a guard tower from the Nazi camps (but it’s evidently a cool party place for the directors and doyen of the Museum). The siting is also uncomfortable, as the DeYoung’s large and low bulk sits heavily on one side of a classical square. The Vancouver rendition looks better, but who is to say what it will materialize as, and more importantly, why do we need a starchitect museum?

  6. Perhaps the $100M in free land ought to be used for more housing, both market and social/sub-market, perhaps in the east end ? Perhaps providing a secure mental care facility for 1/3 of the severely mentally ill and treating the other 2/3s of homeless or sub-housed folks with appropriate group home and housing choices would clean up the east end and would make a far better investment ?
    Is this really a priority for Vancouver ? Do voters and citizens of Vancouver have a say here ?
    comment deleted as per editorial policy

    1. Quality expressions of our rich culture (including Native culture) and our regional arts scene today, if housed in relevant buildings that blessed the city with beauty, would be a sign of civilized maturity. The trouble is that we can’t seem to get that right while enormous resources are spent on unnecessary transport infrastructure, sports and subsidies for last century’s industry.
      It is an abysmal state of affairs when a $300 million regional art museum is underfunded and left begging for years while concurrently being questioned into failure. Meanwhile, a new roof on public stadium costing twice as much is built without debate, and the ground is turned on a bloated bridge that could otherwise fund several art museums with enough change to make a real difference in social programs and transit all over the province.
      The process that led to the predetermined design illustrated above from a sole-sourced architect is greatly flawed. This is not a private project that needs to be run by one individual; it requires a public design competition with some very well thought out rules with two goals: to meet all the technical and spatial requirements of VAG, and to create a building that offers not just a beautiful and highly meaningful contribution to Vancouver’s architecture and urban design, but that also elevates the city with an exemplary external expression of Western Canada’s culture and history.
      So far, the process is not worthy of the expected level of funding, and that process to date certainly doesn’t help to elevate culture above the mundane elements that receive far more public money. This may help the argument to keep VAG where it is, But my understanding is that a new VAG is needed from the technical standpoint, one of the main ones being that 90% of the collection cannot be displayed without constantly shifting the 10% that is. Going underground is not going to happen now that a significant plaza is underway.
      To that end I’d agree to keep VAG where it is until they can develop a better design competition process for a stand-alone museum where at least three architectural finalists are funded to the detailed concept and model stage, and where an in-depth technical and design evaluation is conducted by a panel of curatorial and architectural peers and informed citizens. Keep the bloody politicians out of the selection process please!
      If an outstanding candidate is chosen through an exemplary process, then you’ve got something worthwhile and justified to seek funding for. A great art museum with a great collection will have its own gravitational pull on the number of visitors and the ability to borrow other collections on tour, notably the great masters. And another public use could be found for the existing building. I believe the Vancouver Museum was once proposed for the site.

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  8. What would the great Arthur Erickson have done? Not this thing. Douglas Cardinal? No.
    This concept is reminiscent of a toddler stacking blocks.
    It doesn’t look West Coast. It doesn’t look First Nation. You could say it looks a bit like a pagoda – that would be a nice nod to the Chinese contribution to this part of the world – but it has none of the finesse.
    Good that there is some cantilevering, but that’s about it. It’s boxes. No overhangs. This is Vancouver. It rains.
    It’s all common 45 degree corners. It should be chamfered – like Barcelona’s superblocks..
    The building should be oriented to take advantage of the exceptional site – not lined up with the street – like every Van Spec crap. This is not an art gallery, it is The Art Gallery. It should be an inspiration.
    There should be elements of indigenous building. There should be a Chinese wall around the perimeter to create intimacy and to block the miasma of traffic. The walls could be used by artists to display and sell their work – like the Left Bank.
    Beijing got the Bird’s Nest. We got the droppings.

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