Royal B.C. Museum refresh shifts gears in Victoria

New site plan to be created that aims to give venerable facility more than just a facelift

Victoria-based architect Paul Merrick

Jack Lohman was animated describing how the Royal B.C. Museum will morph from a facility that is “tired and in need of upgrades” to one that reaches “new levels of excellence.”

The museum CEO, who completes his first year on the job March 26, used Tuesday’s announcement of a top-notch architectural team for the museum’s major upgrade to explain his vision for the future.

Comparing the current entrance hall to that of a shopping mall, he called for the creation of a more welcoming and appropriate gateway to the exhibits.

Not only that, he said, the facility needs a refresh to make it more appealing and accessible to visitors, both locals and tourists.

“We know tourism here is a five-month, intense period, but we need to attract visitors all year round,” he said. “We have a huge local population that is very educated and deeply interested in history and culture. We need to make that offer to the local community, but at the same time we are a museum for the entire province.”

Despite the big-picture talk, the announcement Tuesday was merely the kickoff to six months of work to create a new master site plan for the museum precinct. The goal is to see significant changes by 2017 and completion of the work in time for B.C.’s sesquicentennial in 2021.

John McAslan’s internationally renowned London company will serve as lead architect in the creation of that plan, which also involves the B.C. Archives next door.

Recognizing the need to air out the museum’s offerings, he pointed to a need to “allow the building to breathe and be connected in a way that allows movement and circulation.”

Lohman distanced himself from a previous development plan that called for two more towers to be built onsite, a plan for which the museum received a rezoning for the property in 2011.

The idea of erecting two office towers “scared me,” Lohman said, adding he felt it was an inappropriate way to develop museum space. The overarching objective is to create a master plan for the existing site, obtaining better value for what’s already there, rather than creating a building plan, he said.

Victoria Coun. Pam Madoff, city council’s unofficial heritage watchdog for more than a decade, sounded excited about the possibilities for the site, especially with McAslan on board.

Aware of the type of major transformations the U.K. company has undertaken – rebuilding the Iron Market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, or refurbishing a stodgy King’s Cross Station in London before the 2012 Olympics, for example – Madoff’s eyes lit up talking about the opportunity to remake the provincial museum.

“It’s his principles that interest me,” she said of the vision McAslan and colleagues have demonstrated. “It’s about recognizing the value in what’s there while being sensitive (to the surroundings). I’ve never felt so optimistic.”

The 2011 rezoning was a painful process, Madoff recalled. “Those (ideas) were built on a business model,” she says. “Today’s plan is what does the museum need?”

Local architect Paul Merrick, whose firm will play a leading role in developing and interpreting the visions of the McAslan group.

Merrick recalled that the museum was built by the W.A.C. Bennett government in the rather utilitarian style of the 1960s.

“It was essentially a black box that was habited by experiences, or what we call ‘exhibits’ today,” he said.

While technology improvements and additions such as the National Geographic IMAX Theatre have created added value for the facility, he said, they haven’t done anything to remove impedances to first-time visitors.

Merrick considers the corner of Belleville and Government streets Ground Zero for tourists in Victoria, given its proximity to the legislature, the Fairmont Empress Hotel and the Inner Harbour.

The museum is juxtaposed between those two architectural icons, he said, yet often gets missed, in part due to its somewhat nondescript appearance.

“People can be standing right there, but still have to ask “Where is the Royal B.C. Museum?’”

editor@vicnews.com

Just Posted

Stories from the old Edge dairy farm on Panama Flats

Emily Carr once offered a painting to pay her dairy tab

Runners invited to get set for the 40th annual Goodlife Marathon

More than 9,000 runners expected to pack Victoria streets in October

Noted playwright and Theatre SKAM team up on latest production

Charles Tidler interprets dozens of urban interactions in Victoria with 7eventy 7even

Moose Hide campaign takes message to Canadian schools

Campaign launches new K-12 education platform

Lost wedding ring found on Valentine’s Day

Dan Milbrath’s ring is back where it belongs

VIDEO: Thousands enjoy Family Day fun in Saanich

Cedar Hill Recreation and Arts Centre hosts Family Arts Festival

Lost a ring? This B.C. man will find it for you

Chris Turner founded The Ring Finders, an international directory of metal detector hobbyists

Poverty coalition has high hopes for B.C. poverty reduction strategy

Funding allocation expected to be released with 2019 budget

‘How did we get here?’: B.C. mom of transplant recipient worries about measles outbreaks

Addison, 7, cannot get a live vaccine because she has a heart transplant

Steelhead LNG stops work on Kwispaa LNG project near Bamfield

Huu-ay-aht First Nations ‘deeply disappointed; Steelhead says funding is the problem

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh calls for public inquiry over SNC-Lavalin questions

Vancouver member of Parliament Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet last week

Canadian airlines waiting for guidance from Ottawa over X gender option

Major U.S. airlines said they will change their process so passengers can identify themselves along non-binary lines

‘Violent’ B.C. man wanted on Canada-wide warrant

Prince George man with ties to Vernon sought by police

Homicide police investigate assault turned deadly in Surrey

60-year-old man died at hospital after assault

Most Read