It's a seagull! It's a sail! It's a pylon!

The Royal Institute of British Architects unveils final designs in its creative pylon competition. Feast your eyes on Plexus, Flower Tower and other inspirations. But can they beat pylon opposition?

Plexus, by AL-A and Arup

The Royal Institute of British Architects has unveiled the final designs in its creative pylon competition. Feast your eyes upon Plexus, Flower Tower and their inspired rivals, all pictured here.

Flower Tower, led by Gustafson Porter

The idea is to overcome opposition to transmission towers by turning them into works of art that do not blight the countryside .

Like many countries, as the UK brings on power plants and starts connecting more renewables to the grid, it's going to need an effective and acceptable form of power distribution, which could include more pylons.

RIBA is sponsoring the competition along with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC, Britain’s energy department) and National Grid, the publicly traded company that runs the country’s electricity and gas networks.

“Britain will see the equivalent of 20 new power stations constructed by 2020, and we need to use electricity pylons to get this new, low-carbon energy to your televisions and toasters, dishwashers and DVD players,” said DECC Secretary Chris Huhne. “We must make sure that we take into account the visual impact on the landscape and also the view of the public, and this is what the Pylon Design Competition is all about.”

Silhouette, by Ian Ritchie Architects

Not everyone sees the beauty. A vociferous anti-pylon movement wants to bury power cables underground and undersea, led by Defence Secretary Liam Fox, pitting him against fellow cabinet secretary Huhne. Some pylon opponents argue that underground transmission is actually less expensive than above ground , not the other way around as commonly believed.

Y-Pylon, led by Knight Architects

Politics and economics aside, there’s no denying the inspiration behind some of the designs. In a BBC video, Mary Bowman of architectural firm Gustafson Porter refers to her company’s Flower Tower as evoking “the wing of a gull or the bloom of a flower or the branch of a tree.” Christopher Snow of New Town Studio notes that his Totem “says look through me, not at me.”

Totem model (and Christopher Snow) by New Town Studio with Structure Workshop
T-Pylon, by Bystrup Architecture

Ian Ritchie of Ian Ritchie Architects says that his Silhouette design enables the structure “in a sense to dance through the landscape.” And Amanda Levete of AL-A note that her curved Plexus (I think it evokes a sail) “expands and contracts as it marches across the terrain and deals with different wind forces.” She adds, “the pylons don’t just impact our countryside, they actually alter our collective perception of it,” which could summarize the point of the competition.

The finalists and Huhne spoke at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, which will display models of the designs until Oct. 5 as part of the London Design Festival. Judges are accepting public comments through the RIBA website. They’ll chose winners by the end of the month and dole out £10,000 ($16,000) in prize money.

The judges are not, however, in a position to award contracts for building the pylons. That would be up to National Grid, which has not committed to deploying any of the designs. They’ve said only that they’ll consider it.

The designs and their architects are: Silhouette by Ian Ritchie Architects and Jane Wernick Associates; T-Pylon by Bystrup Architecture, Design and Engineering; Y-Pylon by Knight Architects with Roughan & O’Donavon and ESB International in association with MEGA; Flower Tower by Gustafson Porter with Atelier One, and Pfisterer; Plexus by AL-A with Arup; and Totem by New Town Studio, with Structure Workshop.

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne with some of the final models.

Images, CGI: Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Flickr

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