rough notes

Halifax Architecture: Electropolis

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The City of Halifax, known for its maritime and naval history, loves to promote its working harbour as a tourist gem and source of civic pride. To be sure, many of Halifax’s munipal icons, from the MacDonald Bridge to the Harbour Ferry Service, are inextricably linked to its harbourfront. Near the south end of the harbour, however, just past the reaches of its tourist sites, and condominiums, lies the venerable Electropolis Building, a massive cement structure dating back nearly seventy years. Serving as a film soundstage as well as an art gallery today, the building was once one of Halifax’s power generating facilities, providing power to the port and to the city’s streetcars.

A generating faciltity has stood on the site of the electropolis building since at least the mid-1800s, but the current structure dates to at least the 1940s. A massive structure made of reinforced concrete, the building imposes itself on the waterfront, blocking easy physical access and shielding visual sightlines to the proper docklands. While there is nothing “tourist-friendly” about the structure, which sits beside Sheds 20 and 21 – where Halifax’s cruise ships dock, the building is held within the hearts of many residents in the community as the staging area for the Atlantic Film Festival‘s summertime AlFresco Film Festival. While tourists walk past the building aghast at its unpleasing lines in the daytime, locals gather in the evenings to watch films they have often voted on against its walls.

The electropolis building carries on its shoulders an oddly pleasing aesthetic that one would not expect from such a hulking structure. Its lines, composed mostly of reinforced concreate and cinderblock, create a tapestry of shapes that mute and shade one another as the day moves on. Looking at its south side, the structure’s power-plant past is readily apparent by way of its sheer height and remaing power lines and capacitors. Although Electropolis has very little architectural grace within its concrete walls, it does contain a sense of beauty built on utility and perserverence. This building had no time to impress – it demonstrated its style by keeping your lights on.

Aside from the AlFresco Film Festival, the building does play with light and shadow on its harbourside in a manner that makes the community appreciate is presence. The present structure, dating back to 1944, was built in sections, each one successively higher than the last. In the late afternoon and early evening, the Electropolis Building puts on its own light show with the setting sun, blocking its light in the series of steps made by its roof, or turning its corners into well-lit palisades. Tourists rushing back to their ships before it leaves port likely cannot appreciate the building’s nightly last stand, but locals can often be found ending an evening watefront stroll near the structure.

The complete Electropolis Photoset is available at

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Written by mitchellirons

July 9, 2007 at 8:28 pm

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