Vancouver Art Gallery design concept unveiled

The Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) on September 29 unveiled its concept design for a 310,000-square-foot wooden building on the southern two-thirds of the block bounded by Cambie, Dunsmuir, Beatty and Georgia streets.

The design from Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron and local partners Perkins + Will is likely to be controversial given the prime location for the proposed new gallery and its curious stacked-block appearance, complete with a ground-level courtyard and a 350-seat auditorium.

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The new building would feature 85,000 square feet of exhibition space, which would be more than a doubling of VAG's current size in the former courthouse overlooking Robson Square.

Even VAG’s intention to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build a new building on the site known as Larwill Park has been controversial since the process started in 2004.

Critics such as Urban Futures Institute senior adviser David Baxter and real estate marketer and globally renowned avid art collector Bob Rennie have urged the VAG to spend its capital on art, not a new building.

They argue that generating the capital needed to build the gallery will divert philanthropic and government money needed for other community projects.

So far, the VAG trustees have only raised $73 million: $50 million from a previous B.C. government headed by Gordon Campbell and $23 million announced September 23 from the 20-member VAG board.

Each of the 20 VAG trustees gave at least $100,000, VAG board chair Bruce Munro Wright told Business in Vancouver following the gallery's announcement of its new design. He expects to raise a total of $350 million and that the private sector will generate more than $100 million of that. 

The federal and provincial governments have not yet come through with more money, he said, because the VAG board has not yet asked them.

Vancouver city council voted two years ago to give the VAG a long-term lease on two-thirds of the Larwill Park site. The remainder of the block is expected to be sold and developed with an office tower.

Conditions, which have not been met, included that the VAG raise $100-million from the federal government and $50-million from the provincial government. That is in addition to $50 million from the provincial government that the VAG has already raised. 

Council gave the VAG an April 30 deadline to raise that cash but has so far allowed the VAG to have an unofficial extention.

Mayor Gregor Robertson and the city’s ruling Vision Vancouver party supports a new gallery as does the opposition Non-Partisan Association, which campaigned on a promise to allow the VAG to use the entire Larwill Park site, which is owned by the city.

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