Intelligent Energy

Danish design wins UK's creative pylon competition

Danish design wins UK's creative pylon competition

Posting in Architecture

Shorter is better for the landscape, judges say. Royal Institute of British Architects and the Energy Secretary select a squat tower from Copenhagen over taller artistry.

A wintry mock-up of the winning T-Pylon design.

A Danish design that’s shorter than any of its rival finalists has won Britian’s creative pylon competition, aimed at encouraging transmission towers that do not blight the countryside.

The judges said the squatness of the winning T-Pylon from Copenhagen’s Bystrup Architecture Design and Engineering portends less impact on the landscape. T-Pylon hangs two diamond-shaped supports from a top crossbar. Each support threads three separate cable strands.

“Its ingenious structure also means that it will be much shorter and smaller than existing pylons and therefore less intrusive,” said Britains’ Energy Secreatary Chris Huhne, one of the judges.

“In the T-Pylon we have a design that has the potential to be a real improvement on the steel lattice tower,” said judge Nick Winser, executive director of National Grid, the NYSE-traded company that builds and maintianis the UK’s electricity and gas networks. “It’s shorter, lighter and the simplicity of the design means it would fit into the landscape more easily.”

The tower measures 108 feet high, about two thirds of what National Grid says is currently normal. (To my eye it evokes an electrified railway - not quite as artistically inspired as some of the soaring others- but functional. That's just one opinion. You can see all the final designs here).

“The potential to reduce the size and height of pylons and consequently their impact on the landscape and the amount of materials in their construction, made this scheme a clear winner for me," noted judge Ruth Reed, immediate past president (there’s a title for you) of the Royal Institute of British Architects. "The radical design of a single suspension arm carrying three conductors is simple and understated.”

It’s not certain that T-Pylon or any of the finalists will ever see action. National Grid said it is considering deploying T-Pylon as well as co-finalist designs Totem, from New Town Studio, and Silouhette, from Ian Ritchie Architects.

“There’s still work to do in terms of testing,” a National Grid spokesman told SmartPlanet. Although National Grid has various pylon installation projects planned, it does not have a time scale for implementing the creative structures, he said. Testing will include examining materials, strength and the capability of handling high voltages.

Meanwhile, the debate rages about whether to build any new pylons at all to carry a planned big increase in electricity generation. Opponents favor burying cables underground or under water.

In a paradox of green thinking, some environmentalists object to pylons that would carry electricity from new wind turbines and other forms of renewable energy. Alhough the turbines augur more eco friendliness, the distribution does not.

Mock-up image: Peter Trimming via Bystrup

More pylon artistry and transmission trauma:

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure