Form or function – or both?
The design of converter stations in HVDC systems focuses on the technical and functional but do aesthetics have a role to play?
High-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission systems often constitute vital infrastructure projects with numerous benefits including lower losses, lower environmental impact and higher integration of renewables. Traditionally, however, the external design of their constituent parts, in particular the converter stations, has not been seen as the first priority, and these buildings are often simply an industrial installation, where little attention has been paid to architectural or aesthetic features. Rather, the focus has been on technical and functional issues.
In many cases this is sufficient, but I have also seen a number of cases where architectural concepts take on greater importance. And, indeed, there is an argument that a pleasing design can lead to a positive reception among the general public and a greater appreciation of the technology involved. With this in mind, we have conducted a design study for HVDC converter buildings in which visual impact was included as one of the factors. Four different sites were studied, and four different solutions for converter buildings were offered.
The first is in an urban area that also contains other industrial infrastructure. In this case, we designed an attractive building that suits its surroundings, but also strove to actually raise the overall visual interest and impression of the area.
The second concept puts the installation in a natural setting typical of rural Central Europe, where our focus was to make the building blend in and preserve the original feeling of the landscape. The converter station design adds an element, but does not disturb the overall perception of the landscape. The coating creates the visual illusion of a building comprised of many different shapes, although in reality it is a relatively square structure. My hope is that this new type of design will spark curiosity about our technology, and be an enabler when it comes to project acceptance.
The third design concept is in an area like the rural Midwest of North America. Here again we focus on the coating, which this time reflects the land and sky and melts into the background, even though it is on a spectacular, eye-catching structure. As a visual representation of the advanced technology it contains, the building could itself become an attraction and help spark interest in our technology, encourage technical discussions and even promote interest in technology and science-based education. It could also become a source of community pride, representing an environmentally sustainable solution. HVDC installations support the large-scale integration of renewables into our grids. With this concept, I hope it will be easier for people to see an exciting building whose purpose is helping to improve the environment, even though it changes the landscape.
In our fourth concept, we put a structure in a verdant environment such as in the UK, Ireland or Germany, where the idea is that it should truly blend into the surrounding landscape. The installation unites modern technology and traditional building materials. The roof is covered with grass, inspired by traditional rural building methods. The overall perception is of a structure that it is a natural part of the landscape and in harmony with the lush and hilly scenery, while the modern material and design reflects the vicinity and offers a discrete but exciting new landmark.
Yes, each of these architectural concepts will to some extent increase the basic investment. However, I consider them all food for thought, and believe that the care and effort that goes into making an installation that is in harmony with its surroundings can actually help push project reception and progress, and reduce the overall visual impact on society of these important projects.
- Web page: HVDC