You descend below ground, and then rise up into the air. This is how the architects Herzog and de Meuron imagine visitors will enter the new Vancouver Art Gallery. If the scheme is ever realized – and even if it isn’t – that unusual promenade will change the way the city thinks about its architecture.
The design proposal, which was unveiled Tuesday, is both a sensitive response to Vancouver’s building culture and a dramatic argument for doing things differently. Where other cultural buildings are horizontal, it would be vertical, rising 70 metres; while downtown Vancouver is a city of glass, it would be wrapped in wood; and while the low “podium building” is integral to the city’s urban design, the gallery complex would leave much of the ground level wide open – even bringing public space down below the earth.
In the design, the 310,000-square-foot gallery is a tall, distinctive monolith. In drawings it appears as a stack of slabs, growing bigger at the middle and then smaller again at the top; some of these boxes are wrapped in wood-and-glass screens, others almost entirely in wood. An inukshuk? An Inca temple in the air? Pick your likeness. Like many of the cultural buildings designed by the Swiss-based architecture firm – not least the de Young museum in San Francisco – it would have a strong and haunting presence on the street. […]