Description of Historic Place
Located prominently on the corner of Burrard and Nelson Streets, south of Vancouver's downtown core, the Former B.C. Hydro Building consists of a 21-storey, distinctively-tapered, lozenge-shaped tower, framed by simple low wings along Burrard and Nelson Streets. The building is adjacent to the slightly earlier Dal Grauer Substation, and is set back from Nelson Street behind a vehicular drop-off.
Constructed between 1955 and 1957, the Former B.C. Hydro Building is significant for its historical, symbolic, technological, and aesthetic values, particularly its role in making Modernist design prominent in downtown Vancouver, and helping place Vancouver design in the vanguard during these years.
The building is representative of a post-war economic expansion, which placed an emphasis on large infrastructure and resource extraction initiatives throughout the province, particularly hydroelectric power development projects.
Symbolic of the dynamic and prosperous future of British Columbia, made possible by its abundance of electrical energy, the building is a statement of the power and position of the B.C. Electric Company (later known as the B.C. Hydro and Power Authority) and its president A.E. Grauer. The building instantly became one of the most recognizable in the city and an icon for electrical development in the province, as a result of company policy to leave the office lights on all night. The resulting beacon of brilliance advertised the core nature of the company - electrical energy - and modern materials and lighting technology.
Designed by the city's pre-eminent architectural firm Thompson Berwick & Pratt, the building was a local development in the Modernist idiom, incorporating a fashionable lozenge-shaped tower floor plate with sophisticated idiosyncratic detailing, colouring and ornamentation informed in part by the architects' collaboration with the prominent local artist B.C. Binning, one of the founders of the influential Art in Living Group. Modernist principles of health and comfort are reflected in the design’s concern with adequate space, light and ventilation.
Typical of Modernist design practice at the time, the tower possesses an innovative structure, designed by Otto Safir, an engineer representative of the influx of European-trained professionals displaced by the events of the Second World War.
The aesthetics of the building, both inside and out, are a sophisticated integration of materials, detail and overall design, which dramatically engages the vertical tower with the simple horizontal wings and entry. Exterior details, such as the use of interior terazzo flooring, exterioir plantings, and mosaic tile are intended to harmonize with the grey, green and blue landscape of the west coast.
Source: City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program
The character-defining elements of the Former B.C. Hydro Building include:
Siting, Context and Landscape
- Prominent location on a high point of land south of the downtown core
- Framing of tower and entry element by flanking low wings
- The entry sequence: the vehicular drop-off, the plaza that extends under the tower, the low entry door area, and the lobby and elevator vault space
- connection with adjacent Dal Grauer Substation
- The geometry and detailing of the stairs, and tile-faced planters in the vehicular forecourt and plaza
- Architectural features, such as the slender vertical steel columns extending from the base to the cornice of the tower, glass curtain wall and concrete cornice with lozenge-shaped openings, and original door hardware and lighting fixtures
- The use of reinforced concrete as a finish material
- Aesthetic qualities of tower: its soaring height, delicacy, and floor plate shape
- Structural elements, including the reinforced concrete core, cantilevered floor plates, and thin metal piers on the exterior
- Decorative detailing, such as glass tile cladding and terrazzo paving, used similarly inside and outside
- Glass tile cladding in three harmonious patterns, diamond shaped door pulls, black terrazzo on the plaza and stairs, and tile-clad planters of exposed aggregate with white matrix
- Curtain-wall tower fenestration
- Triangular-paned lantern strips that run the height of the tower's east and west elevations
- Detailing of the stairs, the tiled planters in the vehicular forecourt and plaza, and the terrazzo paving