An attractive electrical substation?

Monday, July 11, 2016
by Cameron Shelley

The Seattle City Light utility is preparing installation of the Denny Street substation.  Why is this news?  Because the new substation does not look like a substation.  Behold!

Denny Street substation

(Courtesy NBBJ Architects.)

Normally, an electrical substation is somewhat of an urban embarrassment, a useful eyesore shuttered behind a chain-link fence.  

However, the new substation is designed to be something of a community destination.  The structure will include an off-leash dog track, a 3,800-sq. ft. community space programmed by Seattle Office of Arts and Culture, and a 2,900 sq. ft. learning center.  

Aesthetically, the structure will be surrounded by a pedestrian walkway, fenced by inward-sloping walls (to lower its apparent profile), and feature metal and glass cladding that will glow at night.  (Would that be a kind of advertisement for the product?)

In our Design & Society class, we talk about the prominence of honesty in modernism: Things are best designed when they do not disguise what they are.  This station seems to have wrapped itself in the guise of a community center.  Is that dishonest?  A good idea?  Or, have the architects innovated a new category of structure?