Audain Museum announces expansion

Additional space would make facility second largest gallery in the province

The Audain Art Museum hasn't even broken ground in Whistler yet and it is already expanding its footprint.

Philanthropist and real estate developer Michael Audain and architect John Patkau announced the change to design plans on Tuesday morning (May 7) during a press conference in Vancouver.

Audain said at the outset of developing the gallery, which will house his extensive collection of West Coast Aboriginal art and works by contemporary B.C. artists, he didn't fully realize the amount of space that would be needed for its back of house operations.

"I know about building condos, but an art museum is totally new to me," he said. "This will give us a fairly good area for exhibitions, both permanent and temporary.

"The exhibition area will be about 20,000 square feet and I am told that would be the largest in the province after the present Vancouver Art Gallery."

The Audain Art Museum was proposed for a 39,000 square foot building in the wooded area between Day Lots 3 and 4. With the expansion it now totals 55,000 square feet.

Audain said in addition to back of house space, the expansion will allow for more of his art collection to be on permanent display, something that was originally contemplated as a future addition.

"Our architect showed us where he would eventually design an addition for us and I thought it probably makes sense to build the addition right away because it would be expensive to do it later," he said.

It also means development of the facility will cost more. Audain said total costs are not finalized at this point, but his family foundation is prepared to cover the cost of construction up to $30 million.

Patkau said the design of the facility is meant to provide a suitable form for the private art collection, which includes works by Emily Carr and E.J. Hughes, and achieve the vision of a museum in the forest.

He said the design was also challenging because of the fact the site is located in the Fitzsimmons Creek flood plane. As a result, it is elevated a full storey above ground.

Another focus was to situate it on the piece of land with minimal tree removal. Patkau said only one tree is located inside the footprint and the majority of trees onsite will be maintained.

"The vegetation is retained almost entirely on site, so the value and beauty of the natural site is undiminished," he said. "The building is designed with very a minimal, serene configuration so it acts as a very quiet participant in the forest, not something loud and shouting, but as a partner with the natural surroundings."

Audain acknowledged the support of council and the Resort Municipality of Whistler in making the project possible.

He said in particular the 199-year lease for the land allowed him to achieve his vision of having the museum in a forested area close to an urban centre.

The expansion also means the timelines for the project have changed. Engineering work will be done in late July, with construction likely to begin in late summer and completion in early 2015.

"What I think we are trying to do is contribute to the quality of the resort experience in Whistler, it is such a marvellous outdoor centre famous not only throughout North America, but the world for its mountain sports," Audain said. "And now we are trying to add a cultural dimension to the community and I hope in future Whistler will increasingly become a centre for music, theatre, film and the visual arts."

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