Pylons: high time for a redesign?

Sensemaking / Pylons: high time for a redesign?

From lighthouses to offices blocks, we find majesty in all sorts of functional structures. With inspired design, asks Anna Simpson, could pylons be considered beautiful too?

02 Sep 2011

On Tuesday I woke up to Angela Tilby talking on Radio 4 about the National Grid’s plans to “plant 400 miles of countryside with massive pylons”. After a brief meditation on the fact that much of what we call countryside is artificial creation (“hedged fields, cultivated copses”), the Anglican priest dared to confess that she likes pylons. “As I child”, she recounted, “I found them rather magical, glinting in the sunlight or dark against the sky.”

I cringed from my pillow: so that’s how I sound when I talk about the majesty of wind turbines! A little forced; somehow unconvincing…

Angela then gave herself away, I felt, by suggesting that “some engineering genius might find ways to improve their design”.

Now that’s a thought for the day! Why indeed should pylons not be aesthetically pleasing? We find beauty in all sorts of functional structures, many of them tall and imposing – from lighthouses to office blocks. Could pylons stand proud in our fields like giant Giacomettis?

Majestic pylonsIn fact, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has already launched a competition in collaboration with the National Grid. “The challenge”, according to the website, “is to design a pylon that has the potential to deliver for future generations, whilst balancing the needs of our communities and preserving the beauty of our countryside.” The winner will be announced in October.

The power of good design to influence what we desire (or are, at least, prepared to live with) is hardly news. But given the extent to which we now need to change our surroundings – whether by installing wind turbines, greening our rooftops, or extending public transport networks – it’s a message that can’t be overstated.

Fair enough if you feel most inspired in untouched wildernesses. But, inclined as we are to tamper with the planet, let’s not be modest about our artistic abilities.

Saving the world is no longer enough. Let’s make it beautiful.

What might the implications of this be? What related articles have you seen?

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