The similarities between the recently unveiled design of the proposed new Vancouver Art Gallery building and a Russian museum proposal are somewhat striking.
Swiss architect Valerio Olgiati participated in a 2008 architectural competition to design a new riverfront art museum in the city of Perm, Russia. According to a proposal document provided to Vancity Buzz, the museum’s built form is described as “a design that stacks different functions on a series of differently sized floors.”
“This pragmatic idea lends the building an idiosyncratic appearance and gives rise to an almost cultic character. The size of the structure makes it readable as a landmark in the urban and suburban context,” the description continues.
The entire structure is supported by one single 12 metre by 12 metre “central nucleus” in the very centre of the building, which potentially allows an interior design that does not consist of any pillars.
Escalators and staircases from the main lobby on the ground level lead to the museum foyer, education centre and library on the upper levels or the auditorium in the basement level. Restaurant, administration and art restoration space occupy the top levels of the building. A winding staircase through the building connects all levels.
While the Vancouver Art Gallery’s design uses warm wood extensively for its cladding, Olgiati’s relies entirely on concrete for all elements of the clean white-coloured design, including the facade, slabs and walls.
World renown architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, which also happens to be based in Switzerland, was commissioned last year to create the design for the Vancouver Art Gallery’s new home at Larwill Park. The design features a similar stack of boxes, with the bulk of the structure located in the mid-section of the 230-foot-tall building.
The lobby on the ground floor is linked to the upper levels by escalators. Exhibition spaces and a 350-seat auditorium take up the second and third levels, and there are more exhibition spaces on the top three floors. A restaurant will occupy the entire fourth floor.
Meret Peter, the Communications Manager of Herzog & de Meuron, acknowledged that his firm’s architects have seen Olgiati’s design.
“Valerio Olgiati never worked for Herzog & de Meuron,” Peter told Vancity Buzz. “However, we are friends and respect Valerio Olgiati’s work a lot.”
She says a stacked building design is a typology and there have recently been a number of stacked buildings in competition entries for museums.
“There are other stacked buildings besides these two designs and there will be for sure more,” said Peter. “Even within the work of Herzog & de Meuron there have been other designs of stacked buildings one of them a competition entry for a museum in 2006 Betile Museum. Other examples include Actelion Business Center, VitraHaus or Blavatnik School of Government.”
Aside from the use of wood, there are also some elemental differences with the Vancouver design, given that it rests on four structural pillars, is lifted from the ground creating an open public space, includes a courtyard with low buildings that frame the courtyard, and consists of a sunken garden.
“All these elements, amongst others, are particular for the Vancouver Art Gallery design taking into account the specificity of the site and location as well as the culture and life of Vancouver,” she added.
Vancity Buzz was able to reach Olgiati, but he was not able to comment on the matter.
On the bright side, at least Olgiati’s design was not built; if built as envisioned, the Vancouver version will still be one of a kind.
On the left: the new Vancouver Art Gallery design by Herzog & de Meuron. On the right: Valerio Olgiati’s Perm museum proposal.
Valerio Olgiati’s Perm museum proposal.