Houses that aren't houses at all.
June 12, 2006 7:37 PM   Subscribe

In 1987, Canadian photographer Robin Collyer began documenting houses that aren't houses at all – they're architecturally-disguised electrical substations, complete with windows, blinds, and bourgeois landscaping.
posted by signal (31 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Fascinating Web site and story. It's an odd idea and seems like something David Cronenberg should have/might have used in something like 'Videodrome' or 'The Fly.'
posted by vkxmai at 7:40 PM on June 12, 2006

hmmm... Truly more than meets the eye...
posted by subaruwrx at 7:56 PM on June 12, 2006 [2 favorites]

You mean this isn't common practice? It's literally part of the landscape here.
posted by rosemere at 8:05 PM on June 12, 2006

Cool subject but kind of thin post. Are there more pix/info about these things?
posted by octothorpe at 8:07 PM on June 12, 2006

The chain stretched across the driveway gives it all away.
posted by smackfu at 8:07 PM on June 12, 2006

I honestly didn't know these were Toronto specific. I thought that most major cities had them. Huh.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 8:15 PM on June 12, 2006

There is one just a block over from our place. Until a friend pointed it out, I had never realized it.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:25 PM on June 12, 2006

subaruwrx wins.
posted by pompomtom at 8:25 PM on June 12, 2006

Hell, they look better than the cell tower trees we have to deal with in 'Merica.
posted by yhbc at 8:26 PM on June 12, 2006

This is what most of them look like in Australia.
posted by tellurian at 8:44 PM on June 12, 2006

Very neat, I've never heard of these before!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:05 PM on June 12, 2006

Yeah, bonus points to subaruwrx for the subtlety, nicely done!
posted by jonson at 9:16 PM on June 12, 2006

I'm with vkxmai - very Cronenberg. What a strange thing...
posted by wfrgms at 9:36 PM on June 12, 2006

wow, cool.
posted by ori at 9:42 PM on June 12, 2006

A lot of these are disappearing in the Windsor area. I am not sure what is new in electricity delivery but it seems that as they put new cable in they are removing 3 out of 4 substations in an area.
posted by arse_hat at 10:12 PM on June 12, 2006

BLDBLOG is the new /., boingboing, nytimes, whatever. Great stuff, no doubt... but remarkably familiar.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:41 PM on June 12, 2006

I think they are pretty, and fit very well into the cityscape. Certainly better looking than any alternative.
posted by jb at 3:33 AM on June 13, 2006

So am I the only one who is vaguely creeped out by these things? My mind is just skeeved at the thought of opening the door to these admittedly nice looking "houses" and finding a giant humming grey box in the center of the structure. It's like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Invader Zim.
posted by quite unimportant at 4:12 AM on June 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

3 bedrooms, near parks, schools, located in Uncanny Valley.
posted by gimonca at 5:35 AM on June 13, 2006

Those cellphone "palm" trees are the most obnoxious things I have ever seen. In some of the photos, it took at least a glance to notice the antennae sticking out of the "trees," but on that one? What do you mean can I tell which one is real? You mean to tell me that GIANT DISHES ON THE FRONT OF A TREE is not natural?

Our grandkids are going to think that trees are plastic and carry satellite signals. Won't someone please think of the children?

(Oh and yeah, those house-substations are pretty neat. Though I'm sentimentally attached to the blight on the landscape that is the American transformer. It's scary looking!)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:11 AM on June 13, 2006

The Electron family lives here.
posted by nofundy at 6:34 AM on June 13, 2006

The house substations are pretty interesting.

grapefruitmoon : "What do you mean can I tell which one is real?"

I'm pretty sure that the article is intentionally sarcastic.
posted by Bugbread at 6:46 AM on June 13, 2006

I had always heard the same thing about suburban phone switch houses in the midwestern US back when they had to keep them close to the actual phones. I wonder what's become of them now that they've centralized so much phone equipment.

Also, in Ottawa there a office building downtown that's several stories high without a single window. Again, it was the old phone centre for the civil service. Allegedly it's mostly empty these says with the move to digital switches.
posted by GuyZero at 7:44 AM on June 13, 2006

I love the extra thought and effort that's gone into these buildings. Do companies/utilities bother to do this sort of thing any more?

Most UK substations are ruthlessly utilitarian, looking like this or this, and are cheerfully decorated by the world's greatest warning sign.

We did at least have a great line of disguised buildings during WWII, like the machine-gun pillbox near Westminster Abbey disguised as a bookseller's stall and the PLUTO pumping stations disguised as ice-cream parlours. I think they've all been demolished, though.
posted by boosh at 8:12 AM on June 13, 2006

GuyZero : "Also, in Ottawa there a office building downtown that's several stories high without a single window. Again, it was the old phone centre for the civil service. Allegedly it's mostly empty these says with the move to digital switches."

I work in a 6 story building with no windows on floors 1 to 5. (I work on floor 3). It was an old phone equipment center (I work for NTT), but with the move to different switch types, the building emptied out, so they converted it into an office. I'd really miss the windows, but because the place is high security (for no damn reason I can tell), they'd probably have plastered up the windows anyway if the office had had any.
posted by Bugbread at 8:34 AM on June 13, 2006

I could get used to living in the Georgian style one (third one down) if there's enough room for a chair and a coffee maker.
posted by disgruntled at 8:55 AM on June 13, 2006

In Milwaukee there are/were a lot of these, but they were either built to resemble big, old, brick public school buildings, or they were simply converted old, brick public school buildings. I like.
posted by everichon at 12:45 PM on June 13, 2006

in my neighbourhood, here in East York (Coxwell & Mortimer area), there's one of these every five or six blocks.
I don't recall seeing AS MANY in other parts of the city when I lived there...But East York also still has FAR too many above-ground service wires (phone, cable, power even!), wherease more upscale neighbourhoods had buried their cables over the last two decades, so we're behind the curve...

there's a building at the north-west corner of the intersection of Fairside and Barker in this google hybrid map.

I quite like the little buildings...they seem quaint and old, like knowing a public building has a fallout shelter or something...
posted by I, Credulous at 2:10 PM on June 13, 2006

Goodness! Here's one with a church attached.
posted by tellurian at 5:15 PM on June 13, 2006

To me, all but the first and third pictures look like standard-issue 30's-50's government buildings in Australia. Substations, telephone exchanges, council depots, post offices - that's just what they look like. Look around Brisbane or Sydney and you'll see them everywhere; drive through most country towns and you'll see at least one.

That first one, though... it might look like a house, but the 11kv power lines going into it would freak me a bit if I lived next to it...
posted by Pinback at 7:49 PM on June 13, 2006

In downtown Milwaukee, there's a 1,000+ capacity secure detention facility that looks like an office building. I never knew what it was until I got some delivery orders from people working there and walked up a huge stairway to a security checkpoint. As far as I can tell, none of those smaller "windows" on the sides of the building lead to the inside.
posted by nTeleKy at 11:30 AM on June 14, 2006

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