Vancouver Concert Hall and Theatre Society envisions hall beneath VAG plaza

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      An audacious concept put forward by the Vancouver Concert Hall and Theatre Society would see the current Vancouver Art Gallery’s Georgia Street plaza excavated to create a 1,950-seat underground concert hall, with the gallery’s Robson Street annex building redeveloped into a 450-seat multipurpose theatre.

      The proposal was unveiled at a news conference this morning by VCHTS chair Ron Stern, architect Bing Thom, internationally recognized acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota, and Vancouver Symphony Orchestra music director Bramwell Tovey, and follows the decision by Vancouver City Council to reserve two acres of the three-acre parcel of land at Larwill Park (688 Cambie) for cultural purposes.

      “It is possible to build both the concert hall and the theatre and the VAG on two acres, but it would be quite challenging to accommodate the two,” Stern explained. “The complex would have to be highly, highly integrated. The gallery originally sought the entire three-acre site for an iconic, single-user art gallery building, so it’s not likely that they would embrace such an integrated complex.”¦ With what we are unveiling today we believe we have found not just an innovative, unprecedented way to use the vacated gallery site should it move to Cambie Street, but an opportunity to revitalize the gallery building and site to create an exceptional public square and to provide the city with a new purpose-built 1950-seat concert hall and a 450-seat theatre.”

      The idea, conceived by Thom, is to construct a below-ground concert hall underneath the existing plaza fronting Georgia Street, and redesign the public square above to facilitated public activities such as festivals and demonstrations. The Robson Street annex building would house a 450-seat theatre to be used by organizations such as the Chor Leoni Men’s Choir, Blackbird Theatre, Musica Intima, The Electric Company, Music on Main, and the Vancouver International Dance Festival. The main gallery building would be converted into a public space with lobbies for the theatres, restaurants, boutiques, and other cultural uses, with the Georgia Street entrance once again opened up to the public.

      “It’s not just a matter of what we’re going to do with the Larwill Park site,” said Thom. “It’s what we’re going to do with the existing courthouse and the whole future of Robson Square and the plaza that we have in front of the courthouse itself. It has always traditionally been so important to all of us.”

      Thom noted the proposed concert hall complex, which would require excavations up to 100 feet deep, would allow the facility to link with the UBC media centre in Robson Square, and provide a space for major speakers and civic forums to take place in the heart of the city. Toyota, who was the chief acoustician of the much admired Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and will work with the VCHTS, said he was satisfied that the proposed underground concert hall could work well. “I am so happy with this proposed location and site,” he said.\p>

      Tovey explained that, like the Disney Concert Hall, the proposed Vancouver concert hall would have what’s known as a vineyard design, in which both the stage and seating are raked, and the audience surrounds the stage on all sides. “The great thing about the vineyard space is that you can communicate with the audience, with musicians, and musicians can communicate with each other,” he said. “It’s about the message of the composer reaching out to the audience in a way that in a traditional concert hall space is perhaps a little more frustrating.”

      As for the lack of an iconic structure in the plan, Tovey was blunt: “I can tell you we’re not looking to build something phallic, we’re looking to build something that’s a wonderful natural acoustical space. And because of that reason we can embrace the underground concept quite easily.”

      Despite not requiring much in the way of above-ground building, the proposed concert hall complex would come with a hefty price tag of around $200 million, said Thom, with funding coming from government and private donations.

      The City of Vancouver has been briefed on the proposal, said Stern. “I think it’s fair to say they were very excited by the boldness of the idea, and they could see immediately what it would do for the block.” The VCHTS has not ruled out a shared space with the VAG at Larwill Park, however.

      Added Stern: “If the VAG decided they wanted to participate in a totally integrated complex, something could be done that would be very exciting at the bus station site. I’m not meaning to be critical in saying this, the VAG has been very consistent in saying they want their own building and they want to be iconic, and they think that that’s appropriate. It’s up to the city. It’s up to the city and the governments to decide what the balance is. What we know is there’s need for expansion of the VAG, there’s a need for a new concert hall, and there’s a need for a new small theatre. Those needs are all there. What we’ve introduced today is what we think is a terrific option for the city to consider.”




      Mar 4, 2011 at 9:12pm

      Excellent idea!

      Jay Hirabayashi

      Mar 5, 2011 at 12:17am

      As a producer of the Vancouver International Dance Festival that will be one of the users of the proposed new 450 seat theatre, I may be biased, but I was blown away by Bing Thom's presentation today. It is an exciting, visionary, and inspirational proposal for transforming what could be a dull and dead and useless heritage site after the VAG departs. I loved that he even made room for protesters in his thoughts on how the space could be used as an open public space to which we all could have access, rich or poor. What's wrong with the current cultural venues? Well, we tried to rent the Vancouver Playhouse and the Queen Elizabeth Theatre but were told that we couldn't because of a Civic Theatres rental policy that prohibits us from renting either when one of their 'regular renters' has a gig within three weeks of the dates we need every March. That policy currently confines us to a 150 seat venue at the Roundhouse. The Queen Elizabeth Theatre actually is too large for anything other than rock concerts. You need binoculars to see dance on that stage once you are past row 30. The Playhouse stage is too small for large dance companies. We are renting the Centre for Performing Arts next year but it will cost us an arm and a leg because it lacks lighting equipment and we will have to spend over $10,000 renting additional instruments. That is why it is empty most of the time. The Orpheum is acoustically problematic. Notice that Bramwell Tovey needs a microphone when he talks to the audience. He won't need one in the proposed new concert hall. Food for thought: The new roof for BC Place is costing us $560 million—enough to build the new 1,950 concert hall, the new 450 seat theatre, and the new VAG. Which would you rather have?

      Point of Order

      Mar 5, 2011 at 1:48pm

      " No Culture, No Future"

      Bing Thom has once again shown why he is a world class architect. This is sheer brilliance. A beautiful cultural center to the city without an eye sore of a building.


      Mar 5, 2011 at 3:07pm

      No more taxpayer money for the elitist symphony or VAG types.

      patient thinker

      Mar 6, 2011 at 3:20pm

      No more taxpayer money for elitist pro sports stadium roofs.
      oops too late...

      Maybe we can add a Casino to Robson Square to pay for this?

      Michael Cox

      Aug 3, 2011 at 10:56am

      Bing's contribution (volunteered--not paid) to the city and its cultural heritage (past and future) is wonderful. This proposal should go ahead. The VAG needs a new space: perhaps it would be less expensive to rebuild the post office (they are vacating it in 2013) as a new art gallery--it has the strength to allow for huge installations of sculptures, plus a roof designed to take the weight of a helicopter, so this former courthouse can and must be used as a cultural space, and an underground concert hall, across from the Robson Square/UBC site and from, in the north, the rebuilt Hotel Georgia, is brilliant. I hope the city has the courage to envision this future.