NBBJ Reimagines The Electrical Substation

Global architecture and design firm NBBJ was featured in WIRED for its design of an extraordinary electrical substation. The substation is located on the corner of Minor Avenue and Denny Way in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood among tech giants like Facebook and Amazon, biotech firms, and residential projects. The Denny Substation represents innovative design for infrastructure that brings communities together.
The story was also reported in Building Design + Construction, Slate, Wall Street Journal, Inhabitat, Co.Design and the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce.
Substations have generally been perfect examples of form following function, as they draw high-voltage energy and transform it into a voltage that homes and businesses can use. The look has always been utilitarian and far from appealing, but NBBJ has taken a different approach. It uses faceted, stainless-steel panels that house the electrical equipment. The substation includes a ramped pedestrian path, an observation area that overlooks the Denny Wall, and a color-shifting wall. It will have viewing portals that allow people to see what is happening inside, in addition to having an interactive soundscape that takes in the noise from the neighborhood. Carl Tully from NBBJ said in the article, “It’s intended to be a long-term amenity and service to the community.”
Because the city is running out of space, the block-and-a-half substation had to become a community asset. Bordering the station, a 44,000 square-foot zone will be reserved for public green space with a dog park; two rooms inside the base of the building will serve as community space and art galleries.
The project was more expensive than a typical substation, but it represents thoughtful infrastructure that benefits the public and serves as a model for other cities.

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