This is an UNSOLICITED proposal for the Vancouver Art Gallery.

The Vancouver Art Gallery resides at the center of our city. The VAG’s steps and lawn serve as a rally point for critical community discourse and, at times, as a platform for the voices of those challenging convention. It is the collective “soap box” for our city and, as Vancouver’s primary cultural forum, so it should be.

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This is an UNSOLICITED proposal for the Vancouver Art Gallery

The Vancouver Art Gallery resides at the center of our city. The VAG’s steps and lawn serve as a rally point for critical community discourse and, at times, as a platform for the voices of those challenging convention. It is the collective “soap box” for our city and, as Vancouver’s primary cultural forum, so it should be.

Keeping the Vancouver Art Gallery in its current location is a challenge as the needs of the gallery have grown and we step into a broader vision of how art is experienced in our city. That said we believe keeping the existing VAG is very important and very possible if we merely reframe the discussion and perhaps use our collective imaginations as a community.

Over the past several years, the VAG has proposed several ideas for its future. The current proposal calls for the construction of a new gallery at Georgia and Cambie Streets, to the east of the existing site. This would require the closure and relinquishment of its current building, handing it over to an undisclosed future use.

We would like to re-open this discussion and create something more uniquely Vancouver and more iconic as a broader vision.

We also believe there are many interesting solutions to consider and offer ours only to spark discussion. Our ideas have value but may not be the right solution in the end. We merely hope that our city and our design community can develop enough unique and financially viable ideas that the right solution ultimately is found. We have great confidence in our art, design and overall community’s ability to generate innovative ideas and encourage everyone to join this discussion with your ideas, designs and public debate.

  • We believe there has been a lack of significant public discourse and inclusion on the future of the Vancouver Art Gallery. We also believe that the current concept would constitute a great loss to both the VAG and to the City of Vancouver as a whole. The Gallery’s current concept for a new iconic building follows a now very traditional idea of how to develop a gallery; one which arguably rose to greatest popularity with Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao. The current scheme shows a desire to produce a singular, iconic new building on a relatively virgin site. This idea has propagated across the globe over the last few decades with one star architect’s gallery after the next, each shifting the attention of the world from the previous and each vying to use brand as a tool for increased visitorship and donation. Part of this concept makes great sense but part ignores the idea that the place, the site and the unique qualities of a community offer something wholly unique as a solution that truly is iconic. In other words should our gallery be the signature of a global architect and one of many in his or her portfolio, or should our gallery or galleries be the signature of our city?

    In an effort to conserve the characteristics that make Vancouver wholly unique in the world, MGA decided to offer up an alternate approach. We believe that Vancouver has a unique opportunity to introduce new models with a progressive gallery approach that is generated from within the context of our own city.

    We believe that our city is full of innovators and big thinkers who can contribute to our future, if given a voice.

    And we believe there is another way forward. We have chosen to spark debate and discussion by proposing an alternative with visuals and not just words. The future of the Vancouver Art Gallery is extremely important in our community and deserves to be discussed through the showcasing of this and other ideas. The UNSOLICITED website is about creating and facilitating the missing conversation and dialogue.

    Is VAG OFFSITE the best idea for the future of the Art Gallery?

    Maybe. Our idea is not necessarily the best and is certainly not the only idea for how the VAG should grow and serve our community. That said, we feel that we have selected four gallery solutions (including the revitalization of the existing Gallery) that are worthy of discussion. We have chosen sites in our city that are special, and perhaps under realized, and that we believe offer huge opportunities for Vancouver to think outside of convention. We hope that many other ideas surface from the art and design communities and general public to keep the conversation alive, and to ensure that Vancouver steps to the forefront of cultural spaces with innovative thinking.

    Please join us with your ideas and post them to the UNSOLICITED website. The more the better! We believe in our design community and its ability to rise to the occasion with great ideas. We can’t wait to see what you come up with!

    In the meantime, here is our idea…
  • Build now, in sync with current fund-raising

    Manage the overall capital budget by investing incrementally over time in proportion to fund-raising, rather than remaining idle while waiting for a large injection of funds.

    Fill the voids

    Develop under-realized, overlooked sites in the urban fabric that have the potential to create innovative, yet functional gallery experiences. Look for imaginative areas that will incur less cost to the city than the currently proposed site. A “Vancouver solution” will come from an intimate understanding of in-between spaces, which we can utilize as a community.

    Distribute unique elements of architecture

    Build in multiple phases to create signature architectural elements in multiple locations, rather than just one. Each time a new gallery is built, the City and VAG will gain a spot on the world stage and attract new visitors.

    Create individual galleries for individual collections

    Build diverse galleries, each showcasing a unique component of the VAG’s permanent and future collections, as well as travelling and temporary exhibits. There are many ways to organize the 4 satellite galleries, and our concept is centred around these four themes:

    • The Contemporary Collection
    • The Travelling + Temporary Exhibits
    • The Large Works Collection, Sculpture Gardens + Contemporary Photography
    • The Emily Carr Gallery + First Nations + Canadian Collection

    Engage with VAG in the streets

    Emphasize the role of cultural venues in Vancouver’s public space by developing an Arts Walk linking the VAG satellite galleries with existing theatres and music venues. Our proposed Arts Walk would link pedestrian and bike traffic to a cultural experience. Even if you are not a regular visitor of today’s VAG, you would be able to engage with art every day on your walk to school, your bike ride to work, or while you’re riding on the bus.

    A large VAG theatre will be added to the Granville Bridge Site, and each satellite gallery will have its own lecture hall and educational space. Art education is about transparency and discourse. By bringing the Gallery and Arts Walk into different neighbourhoods, we seek to open the doors to curiosity and bring art to the public in an accessible way. Art should exist all around us, and the VAG must find solutions that break down the barriers associated with the traditional museum atmosphere, and promote public engagement.

    Expand membership and visitor traffic

    More VAG satellite galleries means a wider and more diverse opportunity for the public to visit the gallery. Seeing one collection at a time leaves the visitor with a more meaningful experience than that offered by larger, overwhelming museums, and provides him or her with the opportunity to visit 3 more unique exhibits. Some visitors may visit multiple satellite galleries in the same day, and many will visit a variety over the months of the year.

    Increase amenities

    By creating multiple gallery locations, there is the potential to replicate gallery ammenities. Where there is typically one gallery cafe and store, there would instead be four, each serving their unique site context.

  • OPERATING several galleries

    One of the prevalent concerns with a satellite concept is that operating multiple galleries is expensive. Our proposal is that multiple galleries have the potential to increase diversity, attendance, and membership bases. They can also increase space for supportive amenities allowing a thriving restaurant or other public space in each gallery to contribute to the Gallery as a whole. While increased membership can raise an operating budget, there are other opportunities for managing costs. For example, staggering days of operation would enable staff to be shared between distributed galleries.

    With significant savings in overall capital costs, in comparison to the singular gallery approach currently proposed for the VAG, we believe that fund-raising for operational costs can better align with the total costs associated with each new gallery. In other words, profits beyond operational budgets will only grow if each new gallery is affordable. This is quite different from the typical “if you build it they will come” approach to a singular, large gallery. Each gallery phase would begin only when the operating endowment and capital cost for that gallery has been established.

    The ECONOMICS of the offsite idea

    Rather than wait until $350 million can be raised for a single building on a single site, our idea is to phase development in sync with fund-raising over time. This would allow the VAG to realize several smaller galleries more immediately, both addressing space constraints and meeting each gallery’s unique expectations for a future vision.

    If the current intention is to spend $350 million on a single project on Georgia Street, our proposal is to break the project into the following 4 phases (the order may vary)

    Phase 1 VAG | GASTOWN $50 million (Includes storage facilities)
    Arts Walk Phase 1 $15 million
    Phase 2 VAG | GRANVILLE $75 million (Includes structural upgrades)
    Arts Walk Phase 2 $10 million
    Phase 3 VAG | EXISTING $50 million (Includes seismic upgrades)
    Arts Walk Phase 3 $10 million
    Phase 4 VAG | BLOWDOWN $75 million (Includes landscape design)
    Arts Walk Phase $15 million

    Total over 10-15 years: $300 million


A FOUR GALLERY proposal for the VAG.

Our concept divides the proposed VAG construction budget into a major renovation of the current VAG facility and 3 phased satellite galleries. Each of the 4 projects would be developed over time, in sync with fund-raising efforts. In addition to the new galleries, a portion of the overall budget would be used to create an Arts Walk, linking the satellite galleries through the city streets and seawall. This will create a strong sense of culture and the arts throughout Vancouver for residents and visitors alike.


situating the VAG within a strong public NETWORK

By distributing the satellite galleries along critical bicycle and public transportation routes, the VAG has the potential to become connected to and intertwined with an extensive public network. This means greater accessibility to both residents and visitors, a stronger presence in the city as a whole, and the unique possibility to create a diverse gallery experience.

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Located in Gastown the Char Gallery would house the Historical Canadian collection. Gastown is a magnet for visitors to Vancouver and yet offers little in the way of cultural destination. Our proposal places the very important historic Canadian collection in a location prime for visitors to our city. Located at the north end of Carrall Street just off Water Street the proposed entrance leads to a gallery that bridges over the railway tracks connecting into the beautiful and less known Crab Park. The north end of the gallery will have spectacular views to the park and the North Shore Mountains and offer a great location for a gallery restaurant.

Our concept also includes a way to use the new gallery as a bridge to the park without going entering the gallery. This offers a dual benefit to the community and a better connection for Gastown to the water. By using the airspace over the rail tracks the solution uniquely captures space that is unrealized.

This gallery will also offer a large storage facility under the Gallery bridge and located along the service road to the north of the rail tracks. The result is an exceptional service access to serve the entire VAG storage needs.


Housing contemporary work and traveling shows the Truss gallery is built into the underside of the Granville Bridge. This project involves working within and adapting the existing bridge truss; a feat that is both possible and not as insurmountable or expensive a one might first assume. The gallery would be built as a large tube that connects downtown Vancouver to Granville Island with a pedestrian friendly covered link and a covered unenclosed plaza for art and public events.

The gallery spaces would be mostly located above Granville Island and would be accessed either from the seawall on the downtown side of False Creek or from elevators and escalators from Granville Island proper. As Emily Carr looks to its future and possible move, the intent is to preserve a strong arts connection for Granville and do so in an inventive new space that we feel would create a fantastic and entirely unique gallery experience in the world.

Many unique challenges would come with this approach but the overall concept would be bold and quite special for our city. Just as repurposing a power plant into the Tate Modern in London has become one of the most celebrated galleries in the world, we would have a signature solution that only Vancouver can offer; a gallery over False Creek, with an incredible view to the mountains and skyline and all found in the truss of an already iconic bridge.


One of the fundamentals of our decision to submit these ideas was to find a way to preserve and revitalize the existing gallery in its current location.

There are no doubt challenges with the existing building but by removing some of the unique pressures on the building like storage and by opening up the north side of the gallery to the public, we feel the gallery has enormous potential to become much more than it is today.

Our proposal is to build under the north plaza with new gallery spaces daylit with walkable skylights above. We propose to open the main entrance stairs off Georgia and create a public thoroughfare through the Rotunda to Robson. This will increase the public’s use and engagement of the building without entering the collection . To offset the loss of this important main floor gallery area we would build a new glass gallery with 3 floors on Robson connecting back into the existing gallery floors. This new gallery would add a restaurant and gallery store on Robson to increase use of these important amenities. It would also provide the much need larger flexible galleries necessary for traveling shows and the existing collection.


The Blowdown Gallery, housing sculptures and photography, is situated below the East Lawn of Stanley Park. Although it is considered contentious to build a major new building in Stanley Park, we believe that we should all ask the question: why? The proposed site is comprised of cultivated lawn, not virgin forest, and is a largely un-programmed area of the park. A landscape-conscious gallery here has the potential to engage with existing public pathways and programming, and add value to the Park as a whole.

The proposed design for the Blowdown Gallery utilizes the natural topography and the repeated history of major storms to sculpt the earth into a seemingly randomized geometry, reminiscent of criss-crossed fallen trees. By embedding the Gallery into the earth with sunken courtyards and landscaping across the roofed areas, the building not only brings daylight into the interior gallery spaces, but also disappears from above, preserving views through the park, to the North Shore mountains and to the City skyline.

To create an experience unique to Vancouver, the structure of the gallery would be comprised of trees uprooted by major area storms and rain gardens would illustrate the movement of water and emphasize contemporary sculptures. We have shown ramps down into the gallery’s that are paired with water stairs that feed into courtyard ponds for the display of sculpture.

The result is a mixing of galleries for photography and large works with indoor and outdoor sculpture galleries.


Download the full VAG OFFSITE Proposal PDF
Globe and Mail Article | December 15, 2012


For further information contact MGA | Michael Green Architecture
604.336.4770 |

How to get involved
  1. Write the Gallery and ask that they open up their process to a more public debate.
  2. Keep up to date
  3. Write a letter to the Editor of Vancouver Newspapers and Magazines with your own ideas or support for ideas currently being discussed by MGA or others.
  4. Introduce your own ideas, additions or refinements to existing ideas for why you support one idea over another. Submit them to to share them with the public.
  5. It would great to hear new ideas and precedents on whatever you would like to offer for the VAG’s future but also speak to:

Should we keep the Existing VAG Site or not?

What planning strategies do you support – 1 new gallery? Keeping the existing plus satellites; 1 satellite or3 or 7 or more? Or some new alternative?

Do you have ideas for financial strategies to help make it all work in a responsible manner?

How would you like to see keeping the existing VAG (if you do) and making it a more incredible part of our city inside and out. How could the public space be better supported?

What other satellite locations in the city?

Is the proposed site at Granville St and Cambie a good location for a main gallery, a satellite or not a good location at all?

What do you think about an Arts Walk concept that brings art out from behind the gallery walls and onto the street to create pedestrian friendly zones with public art connecting the gallery to other satellites and other cultural venues?

How else could we connect the Gallery to other cultural institutions in the city?

Why does art in Vancouver matters to you?

Are their interesting strategies for managing the collection into themes? Bob Rennie’s proposal has some really creative ideas about the collection. Are there others?

What strategies would you like to see for bringing the public into the process?

Do you have any new ideas for the VAG that may be brilliant real solutions or may just be introduced to provoke conversation.


Some thoughts on contributing

We encourage everyone to stay POSITIVE. It’s easy to find fault in all solutions but staying positive and constructive with ideas and criticism of ideas will help move things forward.

We also encourage everyone to speak up and take a bit of risk. It can be hard sometimes; some people will knock you down, but we believe that speaking up is contributing to making our city a healthy, happy place to live and the more of us that do the better.

Have confidence. All ideas are worth discussion if sometime only to acknowledge the concept doesn’t work. Don’t be shy. This is a BIG moment for our city. It’s not the only big moment but it is an important part of how we see ourselves not just how we display art inside the future gallery. The space surrounding the gallery, the connections the gallery makes within the city, the forums it creates for public gathering, the way the world sees us as a culturally unique city, the way we see ourselves, the way we showcase our history and our current and future vision through art and curated exhibits are all important issues. And there are so many more.

This is the forum for your voice so say what you believe and we will do our best to hear it and share it.

Related projects

MGA | Vancouver
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