Hornby Street – 900 block (2)

900 Hornby west

This 1981 corner shot is from a comprehensive survey of the city taken that year of almost all the Downtown streets. It shows the corner of Nelson Street with Hornby, and the massive bulwark base that was covered in mosaic tile, with the tower of the BC Electric Company’s headquarters rising above. Today the tower is still there, but it looks quite a bit different, The original 1957 tower was designed by Thompson, Berwick, Pratt and Partners and was the first significantly tall building south of Georgia Street. Ned Pratt was the lead architect, but Ron Thom, who had apprenticed with the company, also played a significant role and was made a partner on the building’s completion. The narrow tapered design allowed every desk to be no more than 15 feet from a window, and the blue, green and black mosaic tile patterns were designed by artist B.C. Binning. The original curtain wall of porcelain coated metal panels covered an innovative structural system of cantilevered floors supported by a central service core with slender external supports.

If the design had a flaw, it was the street frontage to Hornby which was definitely ‘back of house’. In the early 1990s the company moved on to a new headquarters, and by 1995 it had taken on a new role. The frame was stripped and re-clad (with a residential code glazing system that also allowed more light into the units, and opening windows). There are 242 residential condo units, and 100 office units. Paul Merrick Architects designed the conversion, called The Electra, and they managed to redesign the Hornby frontage, and the corner, to introduce retail units and liven up the previously dead frontage.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-W07.21

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