The Polygon Gallery
North Vancouver, Canada
Patkau Architects, James Dow / Patkau Architects, Ema Peter, and Robert Stefanowicz
Gallery Director, Reid Shier requested exhibition space free of obstacles, with floors and walls that can be cut into, ceilings from which anything could be hung in any position, universal access to power and media, and lighting that can be natural or controlled. The main gallery on the upper level is thus conceived as a ready instrument for creativity, more studio than museum. The structural musculature of the building performs the dual purposes of lifting the gallery and providing a clear space, completely daylit from above with diffuse northern light.
A system of steel purlins provide track for lighting, data, media, suspended works, and temporary partitions. The robust and easily patched oak flooring features a continuous central channel for services that give ready connection to installations of any configuration. This upper level also contains a large flexible event gallery for education, outreach, and private functions with administrative offices nestled along the western side. The southern wall of the event gallery is an operable glazed panorama overlooking Burrard Inlet and Vancouver.
At ground level, community members can enjoy this landmark from both adjacent plaza and interior settings. The entrance, lobby, gift shop, and café are encompassed by full-glazing, offering the public inviting views of art and artifacts housed within. Technical support spaces lie directly underneath the administrative offices, mitigating back-of-house disruptions. These fine-grained street level uses make the building an attractor for the growing social life on the city’s waterfront and share the energy of the Gallery with the public space.
The Polygon Gallery is the rebirth of the Presentation House Gallery, a passionately independent photography and media institution in North Vancouver for over forty years. More site-maker than site response, the new 22,600 square foot building stands at the edge of urban waterfront renewal where infrastructure is reimagined and culture outgrows from an industrial past.
The main mass of the building is lifted from the ground plane to provide open access to both a new public plaza and a wide view of the Vancouver skyline across Burrard Inlet to the south. Its iconic saw-toothed profile is clad in layers of mirrored stainless steel beneath expanded aluminum decking. The interplay between the two materials gives the singular mass an ephemeral depth that shifts with seasonal sunlight and evening atmosphere. Looking north offers a view of North Vancouver’s expanding downtown core and past this, the towering mountains of the Pacific Coastal Range.
The Polygon Gallery is a non-collecting institution which has a mandate to exhibit and disseminate photography and media art, emphasizing contemporary Canadian work within a context of historical and international art. Organized on two levels, the upper is home to rotating visual media exhibits, educational and private event spaces, with administrative spaces tucked in behind. The floor below acts as a public activator, animating the urban ground plane. Visitors to the plaza are drawn into the entrance lobby and exhibition space, treated to café and gift shop access once inside. Technical support spaces lie on the western perimeter.
The Polygon Gallery both stands out from and comfortably fits within its immediate surroundings. What was once a site that housed the Marine Tugboat Works Yard and surface parking now contains a development that acts as a site-maker; it facilitates public connection and engagement while celebrating a longstanding local arts institution. The plaza, activated by the Gallery, is a new cultural node for North Vancouver, reinforcing a sense of identity for a small city beside a larger, more prominent one.
This location simultaneously allows the project to incorporate sustainable connectivity and transport. The project is very fortunate to be able to occupy such an eminent site – not just on the waterfront but also next to a major public transit hub: a bus exchange is situated next to the Seabus ferry terminal which promotes movement between downtown Vancouver and North Vancouver. It also completes the missing central link of the Spirit Trail, the main North Shore bicycle and pedestrian trail which skirts the building on two sides.
At the foot of Lonsdale Avenue, the main north-south street of North Vancouver, The Polygon’s flexible nature bridges the gap between the sometimes obscure art world and the local community, while the café offers social engagement in a vibrant setting. Curator Helga Pakasaar has said, “The new gallery is a kind of declaration… a very important gesture asserting that visual art galleries have a truly significant role in our social and cultural life.”