Governor General’s Medal Winner: Polygon Gallery


The gallery’s glass-encircled lobby faces a public water feature. A generous cantilever creates a sheltered area that extends the public realm, helping to activate both the plaza and the gallery. Photo by James Dow

LOCATION North Vancouver, British Columbia
ARCHITECT Patkau Architects

For more than forty years, Presentation House Gallery has been a passionately independent showcase for photography and media arts. The North Vancouver institution has recently been reborn with a new building, and now operates under the name Polygon Gallery.

More site-maker than site response, the building offers a vision of urban waterfront renewal where infrastructure is re-imagined and culture outgrows an industrial past. The main mass of the building is lifted from the ground plane, providing open access to both a new public plaza and a sweeping view of the Vancouver skyline, seen across Burrard Inlet.

The building’s iconic saw-toothed profile is clad in layers of mirrored stainless steel beneath expanded aluminium decking. The interplay between the two materials gives the singular mass an ephemeral depth that shifts with changes in daily and seasonal sunlight.

The gallery offers sweeping views of the Vancouver skyline across Burrard Inlet. Photo by James Dow

Gallery director Reid Shier requested gallery space free of obstacles, with floors and walls that can be cut into, ceilings from which anything could be hung in any position, access to power and media everywhere, and lighting that could be natural or controlled. The main gallery is thus conceived as an instrument readied 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. It can be darkened or completely daylit from above with diffuse northern light. Steel purlins provide tracks for lighting, data, media, suspended works and temporary partitions. The robust and easily patched oak flooring features a continuous central channel for ventilation, electrical, and data chases; these are readily accessible from freestanding works. The design allows for temporary partitions of any configuration.

The main gallery on the upper floor includes north-facing roof monitors and purlins used for suspending artwork. The purlins also serve as channels for electricity and lighting. Photo by Ema Peter Photography

In addition to the main exhibition space, the upper level also includes a large, flexible event gallery for education, outreach and private functions. Its entire southern wall is made of operable glazing, offering a panoramic view of Burrard Inlet and downtown Vancouver. The lower level includes a fully glazed entrance and lobby and supports small retail spaces that help diversify waterfront development. These fine-grained street-level uses make the building a hub for the growing social life of the city’s waterfront. They also help to activate the plaza, making it a new cultural node for North Vancouver. Overall, Polygon Gallery reinforces a sense of local identity for a small city that neighbours a larger, more prominent metropolis.

:: Jury Comments ::  The bold mass and jagged profile of this public gallery hover weightlessly over a glass entry floor. The building creates a generous covered public area on the North Vancouver waterfront, with the form generating interaction between passersby and art-goers, lowering the boundary between elite art activities and daily life. Sensitive to sky and sea, the shimmering façade reflects the changing light outside, while the inside boasts flexible galleries capped by intimidating skylights.

PROJECT TEAM John Patkau (FRAIC), Patricia Patkau (FRAIC), Peter Suter, with Michael Green, Marc Holland, Jacqueline Ho, Thomas Schroeder | CLIENT Polygon Gallery—Reid Shier | CONTRACTOR The Haebler Group, General Contractors and Engineers | STRUCTURAL Fast+Epp—Duane Palibroda | MECHANICAL/ELECTRICAL/LIGHTING Integral Group | cost Alan Nicholson | code Geoff Triggs | OCCUPANCY November 11, 2017 | BUDGET $12 M