An Unsolicited Proposal for a New Vancouver Art Gallery
The old courthouse, its current home, is too constricting for the exhibition of world-class art but it has demonstrated that a museum in the heart of the city plays an important urban role beyond the gallery walls. The cultural, political and economic heart of Vancouver beats in the compact spaces surrounding the VAG because public spaces like those don’t exist elsewhere in the city.
…Of those available to the Gallery, is an empty block at Cambie and Georgia – Larwill Park. This area of the city hosts a collection of notable pieces of architecture, all of which occupy most of a city block: the Library, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, and the CBC building. These projects are isolated, each with their own public plazas, big enough only to host a small performance or market. A new VAG on this site would face the same isolation. There is an opportunity to deliver Vancouver much more than a solitary museum, but it requires a site with greater opportunities.
…the City has been preparing for the removal of the “Granville loops” at the north end of the Granville bridge. Once cleared, this site will be even larger than Larwill Park. It’s aligned on one of the most important axes in Vancouver and is the doorway to the downtown peninsula for people arriving by foot, bike, bus and car. A new Vancouver Art Gallery on this site would be transformative.
In the early 1990’s the city began a project that would become Millennium Park. For much of its history, the city centre was separated from the lakefront by impassable rail lines. Grasping a historic opportunity, the city built a car park over a major portion of those rail lines, installed a park on the roof, and filled it with public art, performance spaces, gardens and cycling facilities. Millennium Park became an icon of the city overnight and is now one of its most treasured public places.
…On the Granville Loops site would be so much more than an isolated icon. On the roof of the new gallery, a new plaza, Vancouver’s largest civic space, would unite both sides of Granville Street and would become a “welcome mat” for the downtown peninsula. A pedestrian and bike path already planned for the centre lanes of the Granville Bridge would become a linear sculpture park connecting the new Gallery to Granville Island. Tourists who have rented bikes for a morning ride on the seawall would return them at a bike share hub before strolling the galleries. Classrooms, performances spaces, and cafes would all spill onto a plaza that is constantly in use.
A failure of imagination makes it impossible to be bold. Once the potential in an opportunity has been glimpsed, it is difficult to accept anything less.
The search for a new home for the Vancouver Art Gallery is a historic opportunity for this city. The opportunity must be leveraged to make the whole city better, more cohesive, and more engaged.
Let’s start a public discussion. Please share this proposal to get the conversation started.
This project was designed and presented by Tony Osborn Architecture in January 2013. We believe in the importance of public imagination and have created this project to give shape to it.
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