Herzog & de Meuron Picked to Design New Vancouver Art Gallery Building

The 300,000-square-foot museum will be the Swiss firm's first project in Canada.

The Vancouver Art Gallery's current building. Courtesy the Vancouver Art Gallery.

The Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG), one of Canada’s five most important art institutions, has been plotting its next step for years, and on April 29 it announced the selection an architect for its new building. The firm Herzog & de Meuron, headed by the Swiss duo of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, will design the institution’s new 300,000-square-foot home. Preliminary designs for the new building will be released in early 2015.

Herzog and de Meuron are no strangers to museum design. They oversaw Tate Modern’s renovation of the Bankside Power Station and the expansion of the Walker Art Center, and designed the new homes of the Parrish Art Museum in the Hamptons, the Pérez Art Museum Miami, and the De Young Museum in San Francisco. In spite of the firm’s proficiency with large-scale cultural projects, the VAG project will be Herzog & de Meuron’s first in Canada.


Aerial view of the future site of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Photo: Rachel Topham.

The new VAG building, in spite of widespread support from Canada’s art community, nearly never happened. In 2011 the city of Vancouver set aside a plot of land for the VAG, which had long-since outgrown its current home inside a former courthouse. (At present, the vast majority of the 10,000 or so objects in the institution’s permanent collection are kept in storage.) Museum and municipal officials clashed over the question of whether to expand the current building or create a new purpose-built structure at the reserved site, which is about eight blocks from the current VAG. With the early-2013 deadline for approving the plan looming, talks stalled. In the fall of 2012 a letter was circulated with signatures from some of the biggest names in the Canadian art world in support of VAG director Kathleen Bartels’ push for a new building. Signees included Jeff Wall, Ken Lum, and Roy Arden. In April 2013 the city council finally approved the VAG plan to build a new home.

Though no opening date, or even a tentative start date for construction on the new building has been announced, fundraising has already begun. The provincial government of British Columbia will kick in $50 million toward the cost of the Herzog & de Meuron building, which has not been disclosed but is estimated to be in the region of $350 million.

“Our new gallery will be a vital and dynamic resource for Vancouver, one that engages and welcomes artists and visitors from the region and from around the world,” Bartels said in a statement. “Throughout the selection process, Herzog & de Meuron demonstrated a deep commitment to and respect for the rich history and unique spirit of the gallery, our community, and our surrounding natural and urban environment.”

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