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Construction begins on new Vancouver Art Gallery, featuring traditional Coast Salish design

The entire exterior of the new building will incorporate traditional weaving methods designed by Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam artists

Construction has officially commenced for the new Vancouver Art Gallery, marking the beginning of a large-scale refurbishment project that will thrust Coast Salish art into the spotlight.

The new VAG building, to be located east of the former site at the intersection of Cambie Street and West Georgia Street, will have its exterior designed by Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) artists Skwetsimeltxw Willard “Buddy” Joseph and hereditary chief Chepximiya Siyam’ Janice George, Musqueam artist Qwasen, Debra Sparrow and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation) artist qʷənat, Angela George.

Crafted from a thin, veil-like copper sheet, the building’s facade has been designed to incorporate traditional Coast Salish weaving methods. It will be fashioned in a way so the design reflects the light as the sun moves through the building, leading to an undulating exterior evocative of the fluid movements of a blanket, said Tseil-Waututh artist and weaver Angela George.

“Our blankets that we wrap people in are meant to protect, so that was a big part of the design discussion, creating something that really protects everything that is housed in this building. Protecting the people that are in there, and the visitors that come,” she said.

The new gallery, designed by Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, is set to tower nine levels and span 350,000 square feet. The rest of the building will be crafted from wood and glass, and will house classrooms, artist studios, an Indigenous community space, a theatre, a number of restaurants and some retail, among its exhibition spaces.

The monumental project is penned for completion in 2028.

Vancouver Art Gallery CEO and executive director Anthony Kiendl said the gallery’s refurbishment is an act of reconciliation, with the new building designed and created in a way that respects and accurately represents the land that it was built on.

“This is a custom designed purpose built art gallery with Indigenous living at its heart,” he said. “It’s not like this building can be plopped down anywhere in the world, it really speaks to Vancouver. It is very much about this place, this culture, and it will be a huge expression of the Coast Salish worldview.”

Kiendl said he hopes the revitalized building will help build awareness around Indigenous culture for both tourists and locals, and will instil pride in the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish Nations.

Coming up with a design that would honour Vancouver’s past while also embracing its future was of paramount importance to the four artists and the architects, said George.

“It had been a large discussion we had with the whole team and so what we landed on perfectly shows the unity and the harmony of the city, and the desire we have here to understand and respect and honour all of our collective histories,” she said.

“It is a huge honour to be able to work on a project of this magnitude, of this importance, and it’s an honour to speak on behalf of our Coast Salish families, our Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish and Musqueam people and our ancestors.”

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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