May 19, 2016 -- Times are changing and so are the building and construction industry and the sectors within. Energy suppliers often address their industry as the one, from which people demand electricity that is secure, clean and cheap. However; it is time that we add the fourth demand to it and that is “Beauty”.
We love and fancy Roman aqueducts or Victorian railways, so why can’t we design power plants, solar panels, turbines and several other infrastructure to make them beautiful additions to existing landscapes. While the world has slowly but steadily started moving away from coal and gas, we should take up this opportunity to rejoice low carbon energy with innovative and imaginative new architectural designs.
While the BIM mandate has received mixed response from the AEC fraternity, UK’s energy minister Amber Rudd terms it to be a “reasonable ambition” to ensure that these big infrastructural projects have artistic appeal along with being fully functional to win over the hearts of the public. However; there are two challenges to this suggestion or approach of making power plants green and beautiful.
First; is it morally correct to mask controversial or potentially hazardous developments to the environment by making them attractive? Also not to forget that by doing this we may just succeed in managing public opinion with pretty designs, but nowhere can it justify several other valid concerns including the choice of location or huge construction costs.
The second challenge is, even where power plants with designs those are beautiful or attractive, how individuals recognize and define “beauty” is something that is of high concern. A person’s imposing eyesore may be another person’s majestic wind turbine. Alike any architectural design and construction, final decisions about the beauty depends on highly personal preferences and also how the new design relates to its existing landscape or surroundings.
Bold and Aesthetic Designs for Big Infrastructure
The Victorians built the UK’s railway system more than a century ago, bringing in the new technology and the visual and environmental changes to urban and rural landscapes alike; which were gigantic and debated over for quite a good number of years. The quest of apposite aesthetic while designing novel infrastructure is not a novice to the architectural world. Architects and engineers also designed huge viaducts and impressive railway stations; that were beautiful and functional as well. Though these structures were termed ugly, the passing years have made the same old buildings, a part of the most cherished character of British landscapes.
In the year 1950 in Wales, leading designer Sir Basil Spence and landscape architect Dame Sylvia Crowe, took up the challenge of an unprecedentedly large and unusual building – the nuclear power plant. They designed it in a bold modernist style. The plant has been decommissioned since decades now, but the opinions about its aesthetic values continue to stand divided. Where some appreciate the triumph of modernist architecture, there are several other who are waiting for the building to completely disappear once discarded.
Innovative and Sensitive design can add to the landscape
The world now needs innovative and sensitive design ideas for new energy systems. Designs that are not meant to “win over” people; but actually improve the environment. Those days are not far, as some of the recent examples of multi-functional and well appreciated energy landscapes - does exist.
In Germany, Georgswerder landfill site, the landfill in a post-industrial area has been transformed into a renewable energy hill as part of IBA Hamburg (International Building Exhibition). The power plant is equipped to supply electricity to around 4000 households using wind power and solar energy. The mail attraction is that it is been made accessible to the public as a view point. While it uses the purified groundwater onsite for generating safe can clean energy; the sunny side of the mountain is ornamented by solar panels. The visitor’s center imparts basics about renewable energy and then they are walked up to an elegant public “walking lane” that encircles the mountain giving expansive views of the city beyond.
The Øvre Forsland hydroelectric power station in Norway, also is paving its path in the same direction by being educative, reflect local context and to attract attention of public.
This is not it. There are a few more proposed power plant designs, green and beautiful, on the drawing boards, and the Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay is leading in popularity. This proposed power plant project consists of a large artificial lagoon formed by a sea wall, enabling water to come in and out through underwater electricity turbines. The concept is to harvest electricity from the difference between low and high tides.
The mesmerizing part of this power plant is that it includes space for walkers and cyclists, together, on top of the sea walls. This is then enriched by an ark-shaped offshore visitor centre on the far side of the lagoon. LDA - Landscape architects have been receiving accolades, for their designs and for creatively developing a project which has place and making at its core, while also integrates this renewable energy project into the lives of local inhabitants.
Needless to say that Norway already produces enough renewable energy from hydropower, geothermal power and wind to meet its electricity demand. But it’s still building more power plants—and it is making at least some of them strikingly pretty.
Celebrate Change through Green and Beautiful Designs
If we take a look at the consequences of climate change and static economies, associated with generating energy, the question of aesthetics may seem insignificant for contemporary power plants. Investment in renewables certainly needs to be based on more than just appearance.
Looking at the promising move of the society towards better and renewable energy resources, architecture firms and designers providing architectural design support services, are welcoming the change with arms wide open. The challenge here would be to see how big power plants can fit within the landscapes, which people can use and enjoy.
All you would agree to the fact that there probably are no chances where a power plant or a solar panel will be deemed beautiful or attractive by everyone. However; debating beauty and design alongside function is crucial to achieve better renewable energy developments.
Bhushan Avsatthi is a BIM expert, a certified Sustainable Building advisor, and an associate director with more than 15 years of industry experience. He leads a team of architects, Structural & MEP engineers, LEED consultants and energy modelers. Bhushan strives to make his organization a cohesive resource for sustainable building design. He regularly participates in green initiatives like tree plantations, and promotes using bicycles for everyday commute.