Victoria's Royal B.C. Museum seeks a makeover ‘that takes your breath away’

The “dysfunctional” entrance to the Royal B.C. Museum is one of many things being targeted for change in a new master plan that will aim to map out ways to make the museum more engaging, less cluttered and easier to navigate.

Jack Lohman, museum chief executive officer, was forthright in directions to the lead architect: “I have asked that he urgently address the dysfunctional entrance that looks more like a threshold to a shopping mall, rather than an entrance to Canada’s top museum.

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“I’ve asked him to create something that takes your breath away.”

He later pointed out tall First Nations welcoming figures on display in the lobby, saying, “They’re now lost in this visually polluted space.”

Over the next six months, the master plan will be developed in concert with cost consultants. The team of architects is led by John McAslan and Partners, of London, working with Victoria firm Merrick Architecture. McAslan and Paul Merrick were introduced at a museum event on Tuesday.

McAslan said the museum’s buildings are fine, but there are too many level changes, too much clutter, not enough connection to the Inner Harbour and lack of clarity in how to navigate the facility.

The architect’s firm has won many awards. It has worked on master site plans for the Tate Britain art gallery and the Royal Academy of Music; current projects include the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Rezoning approved in 2011 permits 12- and 14-storey towers on the Royal B.C. Museum site.

But that doesn’t mean towers will be built.

“Let me be absolutely clear that we have abandoned any idea of a massive series of skyscrapers, speculative office projects or any building that will wreck or destroy the city,” said Lohman, who became museum CEO early last year.

A priority is to make better use of existing spaces such as the ground floor, which is underused, Lohman said.

“I’ve said, ‘Let’s transform the museum into a world-class museum, a must-see destination that can stand up and be counted internationally.’ ”

Redevelopment can be a further catalyst to Victoria’s ongoing renaissance, he said.

The aim is to end up with a master plan that sets out phased redevelopment, leading to greater access to the museum’s collections and archives.

It’s too soon to say whether additional building space will be needed, said Lohman. “Eight years ago when the process for rezoning began, there was a different economic situation. We looked as if we had spade-fulls of cash. We are now in a different reality.”

Lohman is confident money for redevelopment can be raised, although it may take longer than thought.

Discussions will be held with the provincial and federal governments, trusts, foundations, international sponsors and donors, he said.

“Money follows the energy that one creates.”

Victoria Coun. Pamela Madoff praised the approach, saying, “To see a vision being created now that actually looks at building on the strengths of what’s here and enhancing it is something that I think is long overdue.”

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