BC Electric Company Building
Richard Blanshard Building
Links and documents
1954/01/01 to 1955/01/01
Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
The BC Electric Company Building is a six-storey, Modernist office block located on a prominent corner lot in downtown Victoria at the intersection of Blanshard Street and Pandora Avenue. Tall, narrow and linear in plan, it is built of concrete with curtain wall cladding, and distinguished by banks of exterior sunshade louvres. It is now part of a much larger office complex, which is attached to the rear.
The BC Electric Company Building was the first large-scale Modernist building in Victoria, and a significant early example of Modernist architecture in western Canada. Completed in 1955, it was conceived as the Vancouver Island headquarters and showpiece of the BC Electric Company, which at the time was the province's dominant private-sector utility. By the mid-1950s, BC Electric was undergoing a significant expansion of its hydroelectric power generation capacity, and required larger headquarters in both Vancouver and Victoria. Two new office buildings were conceived as landmark structures and icons for the company in each city. It was agreed that the Victoria building would proceed first, and that it would act as a testing ground for innovative ideas for the Vancouver head office. It was designed as a thoroughly modern structure, with no attempt to fit the local Victoria context, and is located at a prominent offset intersection where it caps the vista north on Blanshard Street.
The BC Electric Company Building was significant as a milestone in the careers of its architects, Sharp and Thompson, Berwick, Pratt. It provided their first major opportunity to experiment with new methods in curtain wall technology, preparing the firm for its commission of the company's larger Vancouver headquarters just two years later. Charles E. 'Ned' Pratt (1911-1996) was the lead architect. This was also the first major project in which Ron Thom (1923-1986) would play a significant role in the design. Thom later became famous for his own work, including Massey College in Toronto and Trent University in Peterborough. The detailing on the BC Electric Company Building, including the impressed cross motif that echoes the cross-sectional profile of the columns, illustrates Thom's continuing interest in decoration. Pratt also engaged prominent Vancouver artist Bertram C. Binning (1909-1976) to advise on exterior colour and interior finishes.
The architecture and structure of the BC Electric Company Building were both considered highly progressive at the time. Its clear span design was acclaimed for its functional innovation, providing maximum flexibility for the arrangement of offices and allowing natural lighting to penetrate the interior spaces. The building featured one of the first large-scale uses of curtain wall construction in western Canada, incorporating rows of unique aluminum sunshade louvres that screened direct sunlight while reflecting diffuse indirect daylight, an early use of passive solar control. The numerous plantings, setbacks, open space, as well as the use of glass showcase pavilions that enlivened the street level, further marked the progressive and humanist character of the design.
Source: City of Victoria Planning and Development Department
Key elements that define the heritage character of the BC Electric Company Building include its:
- prominent downtown corner location
- commercial form, scale and massing, as expressed by its six-storey rectangular plan, flat roof and ground floor pavilions
- Modernist architectural features, such as reinforced concrete frame construction with expressed, exterior structural columns, clear span design with open floor plans, glass curtain walls with aluminum mullions and light blue-coloured glass spandrels, aluminum sunshade louvres, impressed 'cross' motif friezes, and Pandora Avenue entrance portico
- structural elements of the original showcase pavilions
- landscape features, such as planting areas with their concrete, square-sided, retaining walls; concrete walkways; and London Plane trees
Local Governments (BC)
Local Government Act, s.954
Community Heritage Register
Theme - Category and Type
- Developing Economies
- Technology and Engineering
Function - Category and Type
- Office or office building
- Commerce / Commercial Services
- Office or Office Building
Architect / Designer
Sharp and Thompson, Berwick, Pratt
Location of Supporting Documentation
City of Victoria Planning and Development Department
Cross-Reference to Collection