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Polygon Gallery breaks ground on North Vancouver waterfront

Chan family donates $750K towards construction of premier photo arts facility

As if emerging from the darkroom, Presentation House Gallery’s new home at the foot of Lonsdale developed into sharp focus on Monday.

Dignitaries and donors gathered at the site to hold a ground-breaking ceremony for the premier photographic arts destination. Guests at the nearby Lonsdale Quay Hotel poked their heads out of their windows to watch as Squamish Nation representative Sheryl Fisher performed a traditional blessing.

There’s a sense of thrill in the arts and culture communities “to see something getting built in an era when we’ve seen a lot of attrition of other cultural facilities,” said gallery director Reid Shier. “We’re seeing, I hope, the dawn of a new era when cultural facilities and culture take more prominence.”

Funding for the gallery comes from a variety of pots. The City of North Vancouver is putting up $2.5 million and the land for the gallery as well as $2.5 million in provincial money left over from the abandoned National Maritime Centre project. The feds chipped in a $2.5-million grant. When it opens in late summer 2017, it will be renamed the Polygon Gallery thanks to $4 million in donations from the Audain Foundation and Polygon Homes and the lobby will be named in honour of the Chan family after a $750,000 donation announced Monday.

The design of the building is one of a kind, using a multi-layered, perforated metal façade, which has at its rear-most layer, a mirror meant to reflect light and the surrounding buildings.

“It actually has a bit of scintillation and reflects the sky. It’s unique to this building. It will be the first time that this particular cladding has ever been used,” said Patkau Architects partner John Patkau.

The outer layer is the same metal used on docks and gangways, meant to metaphorically reflect the location’s long-ago life as a shipyard.

The ground floor will feature all glass walls, opening up the building and viewscapes to all at street level.

“This is such a public space right here. It’s surrounded by people coming and going. We wanted to make sure it was as transparent as possible, as active as possible with it representing both the gallery as well as the community,” said Patricia Patkau, partner in the design firm.

Shier is now looking ahead to the grand opening exhibition, although his only hint is that it will be about North Vancouver but international in scope.

“One of the things that the gallery has always prided itself on is the eclecticism of its program, the fact that we can combine historical work with contemporary work and the fact that we can be local and international,” he said.

Following ceremonial soil turning, Mayor Darrell Mussatto beamed as he pointed to big improvements on their way to the rest of the area, saying it will soon be the “heart of the city.”

To the immediate east of the building at the very foot of Lonsdale, there will be a new public plaza and water feature as well as a new Tap & Barrel patio leased from the city. The multi-use Spirit Trail along the waterfront is on track to open in the spring and city council is closing in on the big-ticket items planned for the Shipyards.

“Three different companies have bid on that site to do the outdoor ice rink, to do the water park and to add more hotel rooms. Those decisions will be made in the next month or two,” Mussatto said. “Once we pick a preferred developer, we will then negotiate with them for the specifics and they’ll start designing and building this year.”

There is some lingering uncertainty, however, for the historic Pipe Shop. The North Vancouver Museum and Archives has been fundraising since 2013 to take over the spot, but there is some question over whether they’ve been able to meet their fundraising commitments.

“We’re still discussing whether the museum goes in there or not. You’ll hear in a couple weeks what decisions we make,” Mussatto said.