New Vancouver Art Gallery building to be named Chan Centre for the Visual Arts after $40 million donation

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      The Vancouver Art Gallery has just announced a massive private donation for its new location, and has unveiled a final design that adds glass to the previous proposal's wood cladding.

      In a press conference today at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, the Chan family—the same philanthropists behind the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts—said it is giving the VAG $40 million toward the new landmark at West Georgia and Cambie streets, just south of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. The gift helps the facility stay on track for a completion date of 2023. It is the largest private donation to an arts group ever given in B.C.

      The VAG is naming the building itself the Chan Centre for the Visual Arts, while the identity and institutional name of the Vancouver Art Gallery remains intact and will not change.

      At the announcement, representative Christian Chan, a gallery trustee, said he grew up going to the VAG and that the project fits in perfectly with his "family's philosophy, mandate, and charitable mission, which is to create equal opportunity for everyone to enjoy and nurture a healthy body, mind, and soul."

      Architects from the Swiss-based Herzog & de Meuron were on hand to present the bold new design of a building whose wood-clad conceptual design caused debate across the city in 2015.

      Wood continues as a theme throughout the interiors, as beams.
      Herzog & de Meuron

      The most striking new addition to the plan are glass screens on the 300,000-square-foot building's outer walls. The transparent, tubelike design is meant to resemble logs, said Christine Binswanger, partner in charge of the design. 

      "Logs were inspiration when we decided to experiment with the appearance with the glass so we started to explore and experiment and test the industry with what can be done with glass," said Binswanger, whose firm has built everything from the Tate Modern in London to the National Stadium at the Beijing Olympics. "From this wooden sculpture that this building was we combine this historic natural wood with this contemporary material of glass. We think the buiilding gets richer through that; it has more layers."

      The feature adds durability, as the glass clads the parts of the building exposed to rain, while inner areas remain faced in wood. Wood is still an integral feature of the building, she stressed, drawing from the history of the province and the Larwill Park site itself. (At the turn of the last century, it was surrounded by low-rise wood houses built from logs harvested from the forests here.)

      She described the stacked design as "almost like a vertical city". The first layer is raised off the ground for the public areas, providing an "umbrella" for rain, but also allowing sunleight in and the passage of traffic from surrounding corners of the neighbourhood. There are two free galleries there, plus a cafe and library. On upper levels there are vastly increased classroom spaces so the gallery can expand its educational and public programming. There is also a 350-seat theatre. 

      Most importantly, the 25 Permanent Collection Galleries will allow the VAG to show much more of its artworks. 

      "It's a very emotional day for all of us but for me as well," said VAG director Kathleen Bartels, calling it a "profound investment to the future of the city and of the province."

      She said, "This will be the most important project of a generation and a model of true civic leadership."

      The gallery also thanked 14 individuals, families, and others who have contribted $1 million or more each to the project.

      But it is the Chan family the facility will be named for, in recognition of its vast contribution to the VAG's years-long capital campaign. "Art is an area that will bring a lot of kinds of people together," said family patriarch Caleb Chan via a prerecorded video shown at the press conference. "Arts is neutral ground where people can come together....In 100 years Vancouver is going to have a place to celebrate people's cultures and really bring together the people of Vancouver and around the world."

      Visitors can gather and pass through a lower public space that's sheltered from rain.


      Caleb, a real-estate developer who's chairman and CEO of the International Land Group in San Francisco and of Burrard International Holdings in Vancouver, and his businessman brother Tom made a $10 million donation that brought about the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts in 1997. Their father, Chan Shun, worked his way up from working in a shirt factory to eventually becoming the head of the Crocodile shirt company. His sons were strongly influenced by his morals and generosity and in the 1980s, after immigrating to Canada from Hong Kong. 

      The VAG Capital Campaign's next step is securing the rest of the funding it needs from senior levels of government and the private sector to launch construction. To date it has the designation of the land it needs at Larwill Park from the City of Vancouver and $135 million in private and public sector funding secured. The province has also contributed an initial investment of $50 million.