Text description provided by the architects. The new Rennie Art Gallery and Office project is a quiet, modern insertion within an extensive heritage revitalization of a pair of masonry buildings in Vancouver’s Chinatown. The project combines a 6-story tall laneway brick building with a 3-story street-front brick building dating to the late 1880’s.
The program is distinct in the marriage of a large private art gallery with a busy real estate marketing office. The two programs generally act quite independently. The gallery will house the owner's extensive collection of contemporary works. Though a private collection and gallery, the owner intends to occasionally use the space for public events or openings and plans to adapt its use within the community over time. The diverse spaces were born of circumstance within the existing shell and offer great potential for in-situ art commissions.
The essence of the design approach was simplicity where the architecture respectfully allows the collection to shine. It is in the quietness and restraint of the final design that the architects believe the project succeeds in demonstrating a maturity and respectfulness for its ultimate purpose.
The success of the interior spaces is in their ability to honestly express the building’s structure and history while framing a contemporary language of details and material. The interior spaces are varied and dominated by the main large gallery in the north building punctuated by windows that reveal the history of the former tenant house, a middle gallery with a large skylight and discreet window to the owner’s personal office space, a smaller gallery without natural light for video or light controlled installations, a tall slot gallery with heritage masonry and openings on one side and neutral wall on the other and a cellar level gallery that has already seen some brilliant conceptual installations. The roof deck is built of weathering steel and is framed by seamless glass clerestory, the north building’s masonry mass, a neighboring building that in time will be screened by landscape and a large sculpture garden facing to the south.
The central stair that leads from the Gallery entrance space up a flight to the main gallery halls is a signature of the interior, quietly connecting the gallery spaces as a sculpture of board form concrete, glass and steel.
The office areas were organized in the south building. Wood from the building was reclaimed and repurposed throughout the project into doors, washroom partitions, meeting tables, the reception desk and back wall storage. The office area celebrates the rawness of the original south building structures that once housed Vancouver’s first Chinese school. The schoolhouse room was preserved intact and used for a meeting room.