Concrete-and-metal ‘Transformer Site’ provoked major battle in 1980s
By David Reevely, Ottawa Citizen November 8, 2012
A sculpture many people mistook for a scrap heap while it sat on the north side of police headquarters for 30 years has been packed away in storage until it gets a new home in the south end.
Transformer Site, a work of concrete and metal that cost $20,000 when the police bought it for their Elgin Street building in the early 1980s, was always out of its element, tucked into a sunken plaza that became a smoking patio. It was supposed to evoke an industrial ruin that future archeologists might someday find overgrown in a wilderness; surrounded by more concrete and interlocking brick at the police station, it looked like a permanent construction zone.
Politicians hated it so much after it was installed that the police commission voted in 1986 to take it out and throw it away, though the move never made it to a vote at city council — then-mayor Jim Durrell, who led the charge against the “rusty pipe and pieces of concrete,” decided in the end that he didn’t want to throw more money at it.
So there it sat, little noticed and less loved, for 27 years. Until, in 2010, city engineers planning routine maintenance on the police garage underneath realized they were going to have to move the sculpture to get at the waterproof wrapper between the ground and the garage roof. According to a briefing note sent to the city’s police-services board, specialists spent months working with Miguel Berlanga (who designed the sculpture with fellow artist René-Pierre Allain) on how to cut it up and transport it safely away before deciding the nearly $60,000 cost wasn’t worth it. Putting a new wrapper in around the sculpture seemed like a better idea.
When I saw the construction fences go up around the courtyard, I feared the worst. I’ve always appreciated this piece and the character it brought to the area. I’m relieved to hear it’s on its way to a new home and not the demolished pile of rubble I had assumed was its fate. I am however disappointed nothing more than red paving stones have taken its former place.