Some elements of a city’s infrastructure, like train passages and electrical substations (the grids that transport electricity from plant to consumer) take up too much space to be underground, or are otherwise eyesores. So an elegant way to house these pieces of ugly infrastructure is inside a fake building: a façade.
In places like New York, London, and Toronto, many substations and portals are housed in buildings made to blend into the urban landscape. After all, who wants to see a bunch of townhouses interrupted by power plants and ventilation shafts?
Here are some of the buildings you’d never know were fake.
One of the most frequently documented fake buildings is 58 Joralemon Street, located in Brooklyn Heights.
The building is owned by the New York City Transit Authority, and it houses a ventilator and an emergency passageway between the Bowling Green and Borough Hall stations.
If it's not clear that this building is fake from how undecorated it looks, the Brooklyn Heights Blog says there's also a standpipe outside with a label stating that it connects to train tunnels underneath.
A couple blocks north of the Buckingham Palace, there's a literal façade -- just the face of a building -- that opens up to train tracks underground below.
And unlike the building on Joralemon Street, whoever owns Leinster Gardens made it look like the building is actually lived in, except for one detail: the covered windows.
On New York's Roosevelt Island is a repurposed laboratory. The building pictured above is a 2010 restoration, but it was originally built in 1892 and used to study infectious diseases as part of City Hospital.
According to Atlas Obscura, the laboratory now acts as housing for a power conversion substation for trains running below the island.
Even suburban settlements can house electrical substations. 640 Millwood Road is one of more than 250 camouflaged substations in Toronto.
Like London's Leinster Gardens, where the building's front is just that -- a front -- the space seems almost theatrical, according to descriptions of the interior from Toronto's Globe and Mail.
'Like the wings and backstage area, everything is raw, stripped of ornament and totally utilitarian,' the article says.
For ventilation, the part of the building that houses the electrical equipment has no roof, and the equipment is only walled off on two sides, separated by a chain-link fence.
Another of Toronto's facades can be found at at 29 Nelson Street. The building is owned by Toronto Hydro, and was established as a substation in 1910.
WebUrbanist reports that the building was designed by architects in the early 20th century to mask the innards of the substation from its residential-looking neighbours. That said, people could still easily figure out that the building wasn't a house -- the Keep Out signs were a surefire giveaway.
New York City's Holland Tunnel has four connected buildings above the middle of it, built just to house vents. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the vents divert carbon monoxide from the vehicles below that could otherwise asphyxiate drivers.
After the vents were constructed, members of the public and the press said the air in the tunnel was even better than some streets of New York City.
In Paris' 10th arrondissement is a building that would, by all accounts, be pretty convincing -- if you didn't know that it lacks a roof.
According to French newspaper 20 Minutes, the building is owned by the RATP, the local train operator. The building has been owned since the 1980s by the RATP, and it's being used as an air vent for passing trains.
Messy Nessy Chic says this Georgian Building, where the doors don't open and the windows are actually just poorly decorated vents, was a Commonwealth Edison substation designed by Stanley Tigerman. The building originally sat west of a Hard Rock Cafe, which Tigerman designed before the ComEd building.
'The building is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, a bit of a joke,' Tigerman told Messy Nessy Chic. 'The Hard Rock Cafe: fake stucco, fake Georgian, nothing real about it. Then they came to me and wanted me to do the ComEd substation next door, but to be contextual, to relate it to this ersatz piece of junk.'
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