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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Hey Bell, what gives?

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HALIFAX – Dear Bell Aliant,

I know you well.

Not only do we meet whenever I do anything with phones and internet, but your massive, oddly-oriented building is impossible to ignore.

I see it every day, and I’m not alone.

I know you’re big, I know you advertise and I know those ads have gone hand-in-hand with your domination of all things telecommunication out here.

But — and it’s a big BUT — that doesn’t mean you should be allowed to dominate Barrington Street with your obnoxious projector ad.

Walking along Halifax’s main drag, I shouldn’t be bombarded with massive spinning people who magically transform themselves into cordless phones and laptops.

Barrington’s got enough problems right now without you adding your ugly projector ad to the mix.

So kindly take it down.

People don’t like projector ads, and besides, our public spaces deserve better.

Concerned Barrington Street Pedestrian

photo by Emma Feltes



  1. The reason the Bell building is shaped that way is because of Halifax’s ancient rules about buildings not being taller than the sightlines from Citadel Hill so we can defend our city from pirates and what have you. The building’s height, shape and orientation are because its builders wanted a high rise so they had to build it in the negative space of the sight lines.

    It is also Bell Aliant’s property that they are projecting on, they have full rights to do that. I’m not saying I encourage or enjoy it, but you’re complaining about something that is in effect actually giving some movement to the dying Barrington street. Something that people can talk about.

    Opinions are everyone’s right, and that’s just mine.

  2. Bell Aliant (very) reluctantly removed a similar massive sign that was erected on their building here on Queen St. in Charlottetown. It was a physical sign, not projected, and did not conform to our sign bylaw.

  3. I’m not a Bell-Aliant fan by any stretch but I just had to say that the “oddly-oriented building” is a result of being forced by the city to minimize impact on the Citadel Hill/Halifax Harbour view plane.

    Had they used the projector for holiday messages or something a little less annoying than yet more ads I probably would have thought it was kind of neat but I’m getting tired of being bombarded with ads. 🙁

  4. How is it that the Spacing community objects so strenously to ads such as this, but is usually also delighted by the preservation or revelation of a ‘ghost ad’ painted on a party wall many years ago?

    I’m not a huge fan of advertising and I wish to accuse nobody of hypocrisy, but when one looks at ‘original’ images of the ‘heritage’ environments of the 19th century city – the ones whose pieces are usually cherished by Spacing readers (rightfully, in my view, for a host of urban design and functionality considerations) – there was a LOT of advertising. Far, far more than what we see today; I’d suspect that a view of Barrington Street in its 1920s heyday would be a riot of advertising compared with current conditions.

    If that was okay then (we like those environments), what is the problem now? Is it the brands? Is it the scale (that is one huge ad on a large blank wall, and Bell certainly is a bigger organization than ‘Timothy and Son’s cough remedy circa 1904’)? Is it the aesthetics/sophistication of the ads? Is there a longing for the form of old Barrington street, but without the ads? In good faith (and a non-accusatory tone), I think that this is an interesting dilemma, and an interesting discussion.

    A while back in Montréal, there was a big deal made over the appearance of a very large (3 storey height) ad for Lea and Perrins worcestershire sauce on the side of a building, revealed by the demolition of a neighbouring structure. This was seen as a neat piece of art and people were enthusiastic that it had survived in such good condition. What if Lea and Perrins (still a viable brand) put an ad up of that size now? Would that be okay?

  5. Des> Great points and questions. The reason I find ads like this so offensive rather than a “ghost ad” now embraced by historic preservationists is really a question of what the image adds to the environment it’s in.

    It’s hard to say whether passersby felt similarly affronted by those old ads when they first came out compared to how some of us feel towards these bell ads. I’m sure it differed from person to person. But now it’s far easier to see their value, since their design, typeface, colours, etc. have a certain connection to the historic character of the buildings they are on. But many of them also have a bit of artistic merit to them, in my opinion, that doesn’t have anything to do with their history. Maybe that’s how they’ve weathered over the years, or maybe it has to do with the talent of the person that designed them. It’s all subjective.

    With that in mind, not all things projected are necessarily offensive. Think of during Nocturne on all those shuttered windows on Barrington or other different, more interesting uses of projectors that really thought about how they would interact with the surface they’d be displayed on.

    None of these things characterize bell’s ad. Commercial aspects aside, the image is blurry and hard to read from the street. It’s also so huge that it can’t be ignored so even if you can’t make out the price or other text it draws your eyes to it. As far as I can tell, it does nothing to make the street seem more lively, colourful or in any way a nicer place to be around. And it makes no attempt to relate to its environment. It’s just a generic ad that is forced upon everyone (you can’t switch it off like a tv, or change seats like on a bus) and gives back nothing to the public space it is impacting.

    Bell should take into account that despite the fact that it’s their private property, it has an influence on the public realm — especially because of it’s size — and therefore the public’s well-being should be taken into consideration.

  6. This projector image has been over intellectualized.  The bottom line is its civic worth runs as deep as the projection penetrates the wall.

    The scale is obscene, the light and its placement is visual pollution, and the content is purely mercanitle. I have no problem with projections: Quebec 400’s one was masterfully done, the Nocturne waves were breathtaking and they are done amazing all over the world.  But these giant projections of a figure skater turning into a phone… gimme a break.

    Where is the aesthetic value?  Where’s the content that stirs the soul or at least invokes a deeper response?  Where’s at least the fun? This is Barrington St…where’s the love?

    I have no particular beef with BELL; they do a lot of good sponsoring in this city and have a hardcore group of employee volunteers who work from coast to coast.  But if BELL wants to help Barrington (and Barrington 2010) and itself they should shut down the projector and the money saved should be divide it up to run installations by local artist every night around the city where it will breath some life into our many urban dead zones.

    I also worry about the precedent it is setting.  How many more of these flavourless projections are we going to have to deal with in the future?

  7. Hmmm… I smell a double-standard here. The producers (if not the setup crew!!!) of the projected Bell ad probably poured hours and hours of their time into honing it, using the tools of our age (maybe flash, illustrator, or indesign), on behalf of a bottom-line oriented commercial client. I’m sure the same was true back in the day – creators of those old ads were far more likely to be commercial agencies, using the most advanced tools/techniques available to them, shilling for makers of worcestershire sauce than artists seeking to connect with the character of the building or contribute to the liveliness of the street.

    If match or connection between ad design (typeface, colours, etc…) and building are important, who’s to say that Bell’s projection doesn’t hit the spot perfectly? While the idea of taking the particular surface (and interplay between projection and surface) into account is very interesting (Nocturne sounds like it was pretty cool), there’s not a whole lot of texture on the Bell-Aliant tower to run with in that respect – projecting a smooth image in some way aligns with the character of the building.

    At any rate, it seems as though an ad is an ad is an ad. It strikes me as problematic to romanticize old ads while lambasting new ones, when both are produced under similar craft logic (combining commercial and artistic sensibilities) and both shout their message out into the street, unsolicited, without regard to making things more lively or colourful. One can’t have it both ways, decrying advertising, unless it has merit, either through age or through connection to their host buildings; the distinction seems very subjective indeed.

    If we demand of Bell that they turn off their projector on the basis of ad creep or excess commercialization of public space, surely a good scrubbing out of all the historic or ghost ads should follow. To do otherwise is to pick aesthetic favourites, which is fine as a critic, but problematic in policy terms. Or perhaps Bell could put up an aged poster featuring one of their 1923 models, touting its superiority to the telegraph…

    …and thanks for the good discussion!

  8. Wow. This is clearly an amazing and effective advertisement. It’s got the whole city talking about Bell. In fact, I think I’m going to walk down to Barrington right now and check it out and see what Bell has to offer!

  9. Not all publicity should be considered good publicity (q.v. the MO of the Yesmen).  I think we are a little more sophisticated than that.

    Lockheed-Martin just put a shiny, giant sign on their new building on the highway through Dartmouth towards the MacKay bridge.  You should head down to their offices and see what they are selling.

  10. I know exactly what they are selling. And I know several people who work there. I’m also not naive enough to think that their shutting down will bring about some sort of peace-on-Earth initiative. Indeed not all publicity is good publicity, but even the Coor’s Light “Colder than most Torontonians” is still remembered. Perhaps I cannot comprehend how a projector displaying ads can evoke such hate that people would refuse to go with Aliant over Eastlink. I would never go with Aliant myself, but that’s more due to their product offerings.