Vancouver Feature: BC Electric Building Opens

When BC Electric chairman Dal Grauer decided to move to new headquarters south of Georgia Street, he wanted a building that would symbolize optimism and progress. What he got was a gleaming 21-storey modernist structure that glowed with electric light 24 hours a day.

Binning Mosaic
The colourful mosaics by B.C. Binning on the first floor still grace the old BC Electric building today.en.

When BC Electric chairman Dal Grauer decided to move to new headquarters south of Georgia Street, he wanted a building that would symbolize optimism and progress. What he got was a gleaming 21-storey modernist structure that glowed with electric light 24 hours a day.

The lead architect on the project was Ned Pratt, but credit has always gone to noted Vancouver architect Ronald Thom for the design. To achieve the tapering lozenge shape of the building, the floors are cantilevered from a central concrete service core like branches from a tree. Only slender perimeter columns offer additional support.

As a result, none of the office desks were more than 5 meters from a window. All of the interior spaces were bathed in natural light — a peculiar feature for a company dedicated to selling electricity to the province. The company delivered its message anyway by keeping their lights on day and night for a number of years. The gleaming monument to electric power lit up the south side of downtown.

The BC Electric building also announced its presence every day at noon, when the horn atop the building played the first four notes of “Oh Canada” for the city. The horn has since moved to Canada Place, where it continues to punctuate the noon hour.

BC Electric Building, 1957.
BC Electric building, 2010
The Electra condominiums, formerly the BC Electric building.

In 1961, BC Electric became part of the crown corporation BC Hydro, so for most Vancouverites the skyscraper is best known as the BC Hydro Building even today, although it was converted to a condominium complex — the Electra — in 1998, after BC Hydro relocated its headquarters to Burnaby.