With the promise of clustered wind farms blighting the future landscape, we barely give the network of electrical pylons obscuring our countryside a second thought. Thankfully, various design incentives have recently emerged that attempt to rectify mankind's insensitive legacy of these contraptions.
In 2008, Iceland's electrical transmission company Landsnet ran an international competition awarding visual appeal and environmental integration. Massachusetts' Choi+Shine Architects' "Land of Giants" concept, won an honourable mention due to the "humanising" element of its design. Cleverly, the pylons can be modelled into male or female figures that stand tall in open spaces, crouch down in hilly areas and respond appropriately when erected in pairs, either glancing at each other or with heads bowed towards an approaching city. Four years on, the design has generated substantial interest and been exhibited internationally, although it remains uncommissioned.
In 2010, Italian energy supplier Terna SpA held another competition, which was won by Hugh Dutton Associés' Pylons of the Future: Dancing with Nature - a design based on new plant shoots emerging from the ground. Its apparent simplicity belied an intelligent system of tension and equilibrium that eliminates stress in the cable runs as they map out variable terrain and lean into the wind. In other words, working with nature, not against it.
Last year's RIBA competition, in conjunction with the British government, generated 250 submissions and six finalists, three of which are in consultation with National Grid, the UK's high-voltage transmission network. Colin O'Donoghue's runner-up, Pylosaur, is a solutions-oriented concept with a uniquely British wit. Playing off the idea of a "rebel-relic", the head of the designer's pylon resembled St George's slayed dragon, emphasising its fearless characteristics.
The criticism is that most of these design competitions favour style over substance and are often impractical, being too expensive or lacking future-proofing. It is still early days. As commercial awareness merges with relevant aesthetics, pylon structures that harmonise with their surroundings would be a welcome solution.
Land of Giants™. © 2011 Choi+Shine Architects