09/08/2013 03:43 EDT | Updated 09/08/2013 03:45 EDT

Vancouver Art Gallery Architect Competition On, Rookies Shunned


The Vancouver Art Gallery is seeking architects to shepherd plans for its brand new facility, but according to an open Request for Qualifications (RFQ), only the most experienced need apply.

The 48-page document makes clear that the gallery’s 13-member selection committee is looking for a reputable name with a competitive portfolio of recent “major public buildings of $40 million or more completed or commenced” to match.

Earlier this year, Vancouver-based architect Tony Osborn and his team released an unsolicited design proposal titled “The Mat”, months before two-thirds of the 1.8-acre city-owned lot at Larwill Park was confirmed to be the gallery’s new location.

In an interview with Huffington Post B.C., Osborn called the selection committee’s decision to close the competition to only experienced high-profile architects the “predictable” and “safest” route.

“If you look at Spain and other counties in Europe, all of their public buildings are open competitions… what you see are young architects with interesting new ideas having multiple opportunities to build those ideas because anyone can compete,” he noted.

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Prospective VAG architects must plan a building worthy of recognition as "one of the most environmentally sustainable art museums in Canada." Submissions must incorporate a selection of features including exhibition space double the size of the current one, a proposed 21,000 square-foot education centre, a 300-seat auditorium, and an outdoor “town square” gathering place.

“The Vancouver Art Gallery now stands at the threshold of one of the most exciting moments in our 82-year history,” said board chair Bruce Munro Wright in a statement.

However, one man’s excitement was another’s disappointment.

Osborn will not be submitting a proposal because he does not meet the committee’s minimum experience qualification, a restriction the LEED-certified architect regards as bullish in light of some of the province’s historical architectural precedents.

The art gallery’s current home is a former provincial courthouse built at the turn-of-the-century by an Englishman named Francis Rattenbury, who notoriously faked his experience to enter a competition to design B.C.’s parliament buildings in Victoria. He won.

No one, however, realized the young draftsman’s credentials were false until several years into the building’s construction. But the controversy didn’t destroy his career: he went on to design Victoria's Empress Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise in Banff.

“If the talent is there then the public will benefit from a great new building,” Osborn said.

Proposals are due Oct. 4; construction is not expected to begin until March 2017.