A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


The Densification Of Paul Merrick's CBC
Thursday, April 02, 2009

In my 35 years of being a photographer my photographs have been treated with respect. They may have appeared extra small, or smudged, or in the wrong colour but in almost ever case the pictures looked as I had taken them. Only once did I have a problem. The art director in question worked for a local business magazine. When I first met him he told me, “Alex give me a full frame photograph so I can crop the shit out of it.” I thought he was joking. I photographed, per instructions a gentleman holding an apple in his hand. When the magazine appeared the picture was of the gentleman’s hand holding the apple. I was furious.

In the middle 70s (I have been unable to find the exact date and not even in this Vancouver Sun article by Amy O’Brian was the date given) the CBC moved from its old and tired building on Georgia to its new facilities on Hamilton and Georgia. The fact is that Paul Merrick designed the new CBC building on Hamilton street and the structure won a Governor General’s Award. Somebody at the Corporation approved of the project and the unusual building was built. It seems to be almost as universally hated as the Eaton’s and now Sears building by Cesar Pelli.

I began taking pictures of variety shows at the new building as soon as it opened and I have “grown accustomed to its face” through the years. I liked the CBC cafeteria with the wonderful Shadbolt mural. I liked the cavernous studios, and the beautiful wood paneling of Studio One. I have heard memorable concerts there. Its acoustics are beautiful.

In the mid 80s Sean Rossiter wrote an article on the venerable Vancouver architectural firm Thompson, Berwick, Pratt and Partners. I was commissioned to photograph some of the firm’s notable structures at night. One of them was the CBC as Paul Merrick had designed it as an architect for that fim that gave us the Cenotaph, the Burrard Street Bridge and the BC Electric Building on Burrard.

I fell in love with the personality of architect Ned Pratt and I fell in love with architects and their architecture. I fell in love with the CBC at night as I took photographs of the curious pyramid-shaped skylights. For me the building is beautiful and functional.

A building’s design has to be respected and it has to be respected in the spirit of the times it was built. We might not like intricately baroque architecture in our Postmodern times. That does not mean that we must demolish baroque churches.

My friend, architect Abraham Rogatnick arrived in Vancouver in 1955 exactly when our main post office on Georgia had just been finished. Rogatnick was appalled at the structure. He dislikes it and thinks it occupies important city space that in this age of the internet a post office no longer merits. I think the post office was designed in the spirit of the monumental 50s when so much of the world had been destroyed by bombs. I love going into the post office to gaze at the lofty ceiling and imagining a cumulus cloud here and there. This building is Rumanian/Soviet architecture at its best. I like it. I like it as much as I like the CBC.

This is why I cannot abide when the city and the CBC without any clear mandate that I have been aware of have seen fit to surround and hide Merrick’s design with enough density condominiums that must even grate on Gordon Price who has been promoting city density for years.

What has emerged in the last few months is a structure that has to be as ugly as the two buildings that replaced our BC Electric, the BC Gas on Georgia and BC Hydro on Dunsmuir.

The West side of the CBC can be seen in the colour picture here. The parking lot for the truck (and entrance to Studios 40 and 41) has been mostly blocked by towers that wrap all around to the front on Hamilton. The towers are designed by the firm Hotson Bakker Boniface Haden. This firm has managed to emulate the common practice of ancient Mexican cultures that imposed their wills over the vanquished by building over the old pyramids new and even bigger pyramids. As soon as I can I will go and explore and see if I can still find Merrick's curious but lovely glass ones.


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