One of the architects tasked with designing a new building for the Vancouver Art Gallery shared some of his perspectives on the city Wednesday (May 6) and on some of the previous work of his renowned firm.
“This is my first visit in Vancouver, and I don’t want to flatter you…but you live in an amazingly beautiful city,” Jacques Herzog told a large crowd at the Orpheum Theatre.
The Basel, Switzerland-based architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron was selected last year to design the new purpose-built art gallery planned for Georgia and Cambie Streets, in conjunction with local architecture firm Perkins+Will.
In his lecture, Herzog described a museum as a place to meet and congregate.
“Today a museum is not an elitist bunker that is trying to just store artworks and present them to specifically educated artists…but it’s a place for everybody,” he said.
The senior partner said his firm believes the Vancouver project should “work as an attractor”.
“The project has the potential to…act almost like a forum for the other civic and cultural activities around,” he said.
Herzog noted the new facility will be the third site in the gallery’s history.
“Which expresses two things: it is of course an ambition of the museum to grow, to add space, but much, much more importantly…it’s offering more public space for all Vancouverites,” he said.
Herzog drew some laughter during his description of the Larwill Park area, as he referred to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre as having “kind of a charming architecture”.
“It’s not great architecture, but it’s an interesting building,” he said. “You can see how the architects were struggling with the topography.”
As part of his lecture, the architect drew on examples from other museums and Herzog & de Meuron’s previous projects, such as the Tate Modern in London.
“When we started this project in the ‘90s, it was like a castle, which has a chimney, which says here I am, but everything else was made in order to keep people away, so we had to reverse that to make it public,” he explained.
Now, the building has become an attraction that draws more than five million visitors a year.
“It became a place to meet,” said Herzog.
Herzog & de Meuron’s other museum projects include the Schaulager in Basel, the Pérez Art Museum in Miami, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
The firm enjoys looking at each project “in a new way,” with different and specific solutions, Herzog noted.
“The way we see the city has a huge impact on how we conceive the building, and sometimes it’s not so easy to say one plus one is two and this is exactly why it is…it’s to do with how you look at how people move in the city, in the street, and how life is in a city,” he said.
Vancouver Art Gallery director Kathleen Bartels said she’s confident that Herzog & de Meuron will deliver on providing a setting “that will embrace the public realm, speaking to our position within Vancouver’s urban fabric, with architecture that will be at the forefront of international museum design”.
The conceptual design for the new art gallery will be unveiled next month, and will become part of the Material Future exhibition at the current Vancouver Art Gallery site.
Vancouver city council agreed in April 2013 to lease two-thirds of the city-owned Larwill Park site to the gallery, but imposed a series of conditions, including securing $150 million in senior government funding by April 30 this year. The art gallery has asked the city for an extension on that fundraising deadline.
In a March 10 letter to Bartels, Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson said there would likely be “significant support” by city council for an extension of the timelines, if the gallery commits to the original requirements set out by the city.
Those include the need for development plans for the new site to align with the scope specified in 2013, and to ensure support of the project from Vancouver’s broader cultural community.
Bartels has said that the unveiling of the conceptual design for the building will be one of the most critical elements in its fundraising efforts for the new facility.
The Material Future exhibit, which details Herzog & de Meuron’s work and the planning for the new art gallery building, runs until October 4.