People can’t be blamed for being less than excited about a proposed design for the new sewage-treatment plant to be built on McLoughlin Point: a grey concrete mass perched on the shoreline does little to stir the senses.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way.
Given that the plant is a near-certainty and that it will be built on the specified location, why not make it something noteworthy, not just in function, but in appearance as well?
In making a zoning request to Esquimalt council, the Capital Regional District presented an artist’s rendering of the plant that shows a series of concrete buildings surrounded by a high concrete retaining wall. It’s more of a conceptual plan than a finished design, but it already has people worried about an eyesore greeting visitors who come by sea to Victoria’s harbour.
Just because the facility has a humble function — processing human waste — doesn’t mean the architecture needs to be bleak or apologetic. The design as presented resembles samples of the brutalist school of architecture that enjoyed a certain vogue from the 1950s into the 1970s. A library built in that style was described by Prince Charles as looking like “a place where books are incinerated, not kept.”
Speaking of incinerators, they don’t have to be ugly. A case in point is the huge Maishima garbage incineration plant in Osaka, Japan, a facility that burns about 900 tonnes of garbage a day while filtering out toxic pollutants, and crushes and recycles up to 170 tonnes of metal a day. With the heat produced, the plant also generates 32,000 kilowatts of electricity daily.
And it’s a colourful tourist attraction. It’s a Disneyesque complex rising out of a dreary industrial area. The 120-metre gold-capped stack is sky-blue with red accents. The facility abounds with bright colours and whimsical shapes. It’s a popular destination for visitors — tours must be booked 10 days in advance.
The flashy Maishima design would be out of place along a Vancouver Island shoreline, but it is an example of what can happen when creative thinking is brought into the process. We would not want the sewage plant to be a gaudy assault on the senses, but nor should it be depressingly bleak.
Some might not want to bring attention to a facility that processes sewage, but it’s not a two-hole privy — we can’t hide it in the backyard out of sight of polite folk. It will of necessity be noticeable, so let’s not make it an object of shame. Let’s be adventurous and make it a bold statement within the broad boundaries of good taste.
More from Prince Charles who, in discussing the trends in modern London architecture, said: “You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe, when it knocked down our buildings, it didn’t replace them with anything more offensive than rubble. Surely here, if anywhere, is the time and place to sacrifice some profit, if need be, for generosity of vision, for elegance, for dignity.”
Charles’s architectural tastes are narrow, but he makes a good point. If we’re building something, why not make it attractive? We shouldn’t settle for a grey, concrete mass, a visionless lump on the landscape that will offend the eye for the next 100 years.
The Greater Victoria region is a place of beauty and optimism. Its architecture — even a sewage plant — should reflect that.
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