The Electra: Reprogramming a Mid-Century Landmark

A fireside chat with Paul Merrick and Donald Luxton

Wednesday, November 7th
6:30pm – 8:30pm
989 Nelson Street

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Since it was first completed in 1957, the B.C. Electric building at Nelson and Burrard Streets has been a landmark of Modernist architecture. A quarter century ago work began on the adaptive reuse of this former head office as a residential building, The Electra. Hear about this successful Vancouver project, its history and legacy from Architect Paul Merrick in conversation with Heritage Consultant Donald Luxton.

About the Venue

Bu P522, BC Electric Bldg 1957“The tower kept Modernism’s promise to elevate the urban environment through the application of technology and art.” -The New Spirit: Modern Architecture in Vancouver 1938-1963

When completed in 1957, the BC Electric Building (now The Electra) was a striking example of Modern design. It remains so after its conversion to residences, at which time it became Vancouver’s first heritage-designated Modernist building. The BC Electric building was designed to fulfill company president Dal Grauer’s commission for a “signature building” to serve as head office, sparing no expense and reflecting huge postwar growth enabled by the development of electrical power. Grauer, unlike many others of the time, embraced forward-thinking Modernist ideals. The tower complemented the adjacent Dal Grauer Substation, completed three years earlier, notable for its visible substation inner workings.

The Thompson Berwick & Pratt design team was led by Ned (Charles E.) Pratt, in consultation with engineer Otto Safir. Initially envisioned with stepped angular blocks at each corner of the site, the design morphed to a sheer lozenge-shaped tower. It was engineered to meet Grauer’s desire that “every employee have the finest office space,” well-lit and ventilated, with every desk within 15 feet of a window and view. Pratt and Safir devised a structural service core that supports cantilevered floors, the exterior clad in glass and enameled metal curtain walls.

Pratt involved artist B.C. Binning and a young Ron Thom for the decoration and detailing. Binning’s adaptation of the company’s chevron logo is seen in the repeating design of the vivid mosaic tile work. The colours of the mosaics are those still used in BC Hydro’s logo today.