A very ordinary power: The evolution of the electrical substation in Pietermaritzburg, 1900-1960.
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Pietermaritzburg is a city in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, characterised by a central core of late Victorian-era buildings. It was in this period that electrification arrived, bringing with it new challenges in the provision of infrastructure and its ancillary requirements. One such adjunct to electrification was the need to provide for structures to house transformers and substations and these had to be integrated into an already existing urban infrastructure. As primarily utilitarian buildings, they had a single function which was to house the mechanisms of electrical power. However, simultaneously, they had to exist as palatable pieces of architecture within an already largely constructed city-scape. This cogent awareness of built environment is reflected in the design of many of the substations, which are modest, constructed within the prevailing architectural style of the time, and as a result blend in entirely with the city fabric as it exists. They also tell the story of the arrival of one of the cornerstones of our modern existence, namely power, and elucidate its part in the creation of new areas of the city and the march of “progress” from the centre outwards.