Vancouver Concert Hall and Theatre Society has been working in close partnership with local design firm Bing Thom Architects, international acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota of Nagata Acoustics, and various engineering and geotechnical experts over the past few years to explore the potential of a below-ground concert hall under the existing Vancouver Art Gallery Plaza.
On Friday, sections and plans of the concept by Bing Thom Architects were released to the media and presented to the public, polarising the local community. The Society is readily welcoming comments from Vancouverites and outsiders alike as the project is analysed during the public consultation process, with Facebook and Twitter sites already abuzz with opinion and a forum ‘for rigorous examination’ in the works.
One early commenter is Anthony F. Ingram, who posted his thoughts on the Facebook wall: “While I think this idea is laudable, the 450 seat theatre space, in my opinion, will be of little use to the numerous small theatre companies that are crying out for spaces in which to present their work. What we really need are 150 to 200 seat spaces. We can't afford a 450 space.”
The group’s administrators responded swiftly to this post, thanking Anthony for his comment and directing him to a full report by Vancouver’s City Council which suggests that there is a gaping hole in the market for a venue of this size. This 160-page document (compiled in 2008) recognises that: “the majority (87%) of Vancouver’s small-scale, live presentation spaces are delivered through multi-functional facilities that accommodate performance-based activity as a secondary/ancillary function.”
Concepts presented by Vancouver Concert Hall and Theatre Society integrate a smaller 450-seat multipurpose dance, music and theatre venue with exceptional acoustic and performance capabilities, and a larger 1,950-seat concert hall for use by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and twenty of the city’s best-known performing arts groups, into the existing heritage building of the Vancouver Art Gallery. The larger of the two performance spaces will be located underneath the Gallery’s plaza fronting Georgia Street while the smaller 450-seat venue will be situated in the reformed Annex Building facing Robson Street.
The plaza itself will be redeveloped in order to host a variety of celebrations, festivals, demonstrations and other public events, including external projections of concerts and rehearsals held within the Concert Hall complex. These high quality performance spaces will be supported by two lobbies, restaurants and boutiques, housed in the former Vancouver Court House (now Vancouver Art Gallery) and will be accessed via multiple sky-lit escalators.
Architect Bing Thom, whose practice has been examining the concept since 2006, acknowledged: “This is a radical idea that will transform our city and is keeping with Vancouver’s tradition of leading-edge urban thinking and green design.”
This stance was supported by the Principal and Executive Director of Bing Thom Architects, Michael Heeney, who explained that the below-grade location of the new venue ‘would mean a great opportunity for heating and cooling the building by taking advantage of the Earth’s temperature. And there would be substantial reductions in costs associated with reusing many of the existing facilities and eliminating the need to clad the exterior of the concert hall’.
The Society is keen to stress that the new theatre and concert hall will not occupy the entire capacity afforded by the existing Gallery, creating additional public space for community and cultural use. Various studies have shown that whilst Vancouver currently offers a diverse selection of event spaces, supporting facilities such as backstage space, dressing rooms, public restrooms, technical equipment, stage size and sightlines are ‘less than adequate’. Vancouver Concert Hall and Theatre Society is looking to supply a fitting tribute to the city which solves all of these issues through an interactive public consultation and design development process.