Price Points: Beauty = Waste

What’s going on behind the shrink wrap?

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They’re doing work on the exterior of the Dal Grauer Substation on Burrard Street (map here) – a critical piece of the electrical system that transforms voltage from high to low.

This is what it looked like after the plexiglass panels had faded:

 

But originally it looked like this:

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Why is the substation significant?  It was one of the great pieces of architecture – and art – in a Vancouver that at the time, the early 1950s, was entering the Modern World.

According to Heritage Vancouver:

…  the entire Burrard Street elevation featured a floor-to-ceiling glass and steel curtain wall that exposed electrical machinery, staircases, and other functional elements set against a backdrop of bright primary colours.

Architect Ned Pratt and artist B.C. Binning created, in essence, a three-dimensional ‘canvas’ which, when viewed through the exterior glass and steel grid, has been said to resemble a Mondrian / De Stijl painting.

So will B.C. Hydro restore it?  Not like it could.  It looks as though the exterior cladding is going to be replaced (i.e., the glass, frames, etc.) – but from a purely functional perspective.  The building may be a lost opportunity.

Very little money could make a huge difference to the aesthetics.  However, BC Hydro is under siege for almost everything it does these days, and any “beautification” would likely be perceived as a waste of money and a disregard for ratepayer’s money.

In other words, Beauty equals Waste.

Have we reached the point where, if money is being spent for something public, it had better not look too good?

Since B.C. Hydro emphasizes sustainability as a priority, this quote might be helpful:

… sustainability is about more than new technologies. At its most basic, “sustainable” means enduring. A sustainable community is a place of enduring value. Doug Kelbaugh, the dean of the University of Michigan School of Architecture, put it this way, “If a building, a landscape or a city is not beautiful, it will not be loved; if it is not loved, it won’t be maintained and improved. In short, it won’t be sustained.”

Adele Weder covered some of the same ground here, as did Alex Waterhouse-Hayward here.

One comment

  1. It will be a tragedy if they don’t restore Dal Grauer to it’s original glory. Most Hydro substations are architecturally significant and most are in deteriorating condition. 

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