Landscape impact of electric pylon softened by design?

Humanoid pylons ©Choi+Shine Architects, LLC, all rights reserved Image copyright Other

Could these be the new Angels of the South? A procession of humanoid pylons, carrying renewable energy to our homes. A thing of beauty rather than a blot on the Sussex Downs or the woods of Oxfordshire.

The idea comes from a design competition run in Iceland in 2008. Massachusetts-based architects Choi and Shine used materials and construction methods are similar to standard pylons, but the colour is white instead of gun-metal grey.

Jin Shoi says "These are not trying to disappear into the landscape, but to make a contrast against it. And with proper lighting, it could become a tourist attraction,"

Co-designer Thomas Shine says public opinion on pylons is split. "There are people who would rather see nothing - they think all power generation and power lines are a bad thing and spoil the environment.

"Then there's the view that if you have to have power lines, wind turbines and power masts, at least if they are pretty and attractive, that helps. So we took something that was an eyesore and made it into something beautiful."

Pylons are a necessary evil if we are to wean ourselves off carbon-based energy. The cost of burying cables makes it prohibitive, even without the ease of maintenance provided by suspended high voltage lines.

Classic New Forest design

The original design was chosen in 1927 by an architect - Sir Reginald Blomfield - who wanted a design closer to the true sense of a pylon - an Egyptian gateway to the sun.

The last of 26,000 were put up in the New Forest in September 1933.

"They are largely transparent to a large extent. You look through them, rather than at them," says Ross Hayman, spokesman for the National Grid. "That was part of the original intention, as well as improving their wind resistance.

To be less intrusive pylons are often placed below the skyline.

Image copyright Other
Image caption Pylon v mono-pole - an alternative offered already by the National Grid

The National Grid has tried a stalk-like "mono-pole" design, but it hasn't been well received.

The new competition by the Department of the Environment aims to meet the need for new pylons as our generating capacity changes. A quarter of oil and coal-fired power stations will have to be replaced by 2020.

Preserving the natural landscape

Up until now pylons have not been allowed in National Parks and places of natural beauty.

The President of Dorset CPRE, Terry Stewart, believes the ban must continue. "They must be designed to blend in better to their surroundings and the sky, and they should use the existing routes rather than going through our scarce natural parks."

In Denmark, he says, the height of pylons has been reduced by a third another idea that he suggests could be adopted.

And perhaps the promise of a £10,000 prize will bring forward a new British design that will give us energy and beauty together.

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