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The Powerful New Architecture of Clean Energy

The Powerful New Architecture of Clean Energy

Energy infrastructure has historically been met with a “Not in My Back Yard” response from policymakers and the public alike. Aside from the clear human health implications of coal plants and natural gas stations, the architecture of energy infrastructure has traditionally been driven by raw economy and feasibility, with isolated locations creating little need for architectural beauty. However, modern ideological and urban shifts are powering a new approach. 

Värtan Bioenergy CHP-plant / UD Urban Design AB + Gottlieb Paludan Architects. Image © Robin Hayes Hydroelectric Power Station / monovolume. Image © monovolume Bio Mass Power Plant / Matteo Thun & Partners. Image © Jens Weber Pålsbu Hydro Power Station / Manthey Kula Architects. Image Courtesy of Manthey Kula Architects + 11

Recently, several factors have led to a revision of the above narrative. Energy infrastructures, like the people they serve, are increasingly moving to cities just as much as cities are moving towards them, owing to urban sprawl and the establishment of more interdependent energy networks. Meanwhile, growing awareness of climate change has placed an added importance on energy production typologies. While the cold, impersonal coal and gas stations of the past symbolized a division between this infrastructure and the world around it, a new approach to harvesting energy has heralded a new architecture to accompany it.

Across the world today, energy infrastructure is lighting up architectural imaginations, fueling a new typology that merges a continuing need for efficiency and economy with architectural considerations that respond to a variety of contexts, whether it be urban or rural, built or natural, occupant or visitor. Below, we highlight ten examples of how architects and designers have used energy plants as an artistic platform to celebrate, and instigate, a greener future.  

Hydropower Plant Ragn d'Err / Vincenzo Cangemi Architectes

Hydropower Plant Ragn d'Err / Vincenzo Cangemi Architectes. Image © Ralph Feiner
Hydropower Plant Ragn d'Err / Vincenzo Cangemi Architectes. Image © Ralph Feiner

The Mulegn Powerplant is an example of beauty shaped from practicality. Designed with a concrete structure to provide strength against flooding, the building is acoustically insulated and sheltered by its wooden cladding. Natural light seeps through south-facing breaks in the wooden planks, which also serve to regulate heating and cooling, and direct noise pollution away from the nearby village of Tinizong.

Read more about the project here.

Värtan Bioenergy CHP-plant / UD Urban Design AB + Gottlieb Paludan Architects

Värtan Bioenergy CHP-plant / UD Urban Design AB + Gottlieb Paludan Architects. Image © Robin Hayes
Värtan Bioenergy CHP-plant / UD Urban Design AB + Gottlieb Paludan Architects. Image © Robin Hayes

The Värtan project is the largest urban biofuel CHP plant in the world, driven by a dual goal of significantly reducing the ecological footprint of Stokholm, and providing safe, reliable heat and power. A sinuous façade of terracotta panels echoes the brick of nearby historic industrial facades while curving fins offer a transparency that gently reveals the activities within.

Read more about the project here.

Hydroelectric Power Station / monovolume

Hydroelectric Power Station / monovolume. Image © monovolume
Hydroelectric Power Station / monovolume. Image © monovolume

This hydroelectric station consists of a simple polygonal volume, sculpted by the landscape, and imagined as a rock quarried from the slopes it sits among. Observers are given subtle insights inside by a system of glass “veins” that fragment the rough concrete and steel finish.

Read more about the project here.

Powerhouse Brattørkaia / Snøhetta

Powerhouse Brattørkaia / Snøhetta. Image © Ivar Kvaal
Powerhouse Brattørkaia / Snøhetta. Image © Ivar Kvaal

Situated in Trondheim, Norway, Snøhetta’s powerhouse takes advantage of its far-northern location with an extensive façade system of solar panels. The scheme generates more than twice as much energy as it consumes, while serving as a pleasant space for tenants and the public through landscaped atriums, and large windows to maximize natural light.

Read more about the project here.

BioMass Power Plant / Matteo Thun & Partners

Bio Mass Power Plant / Matteo Thun & Partners. Image © Jens Weber
Bio Mass Power Plant / Matteo Thun & Partners. Image © Jens Weber

The underlying ethos of the Schilling Power Station in Germany is to establish a virtuous interdependency with a nearby sawmill, taking bark and wood chips to be fed into a combustible biomass generator. The plant then produces heat to fuel the sawmill’s own energy requirements, thus completing the cycle, as well as serving a nearby hospital. The architecture is one of ecology: transparency, lightness, and stylistic clarity, expressed in a cube-shaped glass and steel core and a cylindrical coating of woven larch wood planks.

Read more about the project here.

Greenwich Peninsula Low Carbon Energy Centre / C.F. Møller

Greenwich Peninsula Low Carbon Energy Centre / C.F. Møller. Image © Mark Hadden
Greenwich Peninsula Low Carbon Energy Centre / C.F. Møller. Image © Mark Hadden

The Greenwich Peninsula scheme responds to a political drive to increase the use of CHP (combined heat and power) in London, saving over 20,000 tonnes of carbon every year. Designed as a highly visible landmark, the scheme celebrates the operator’s sustainable aspirations, with a 49-meter high stack tower clad in hundreds of triangular panels. The panels are perforated so as to exploit the phenomena of the Moiré Effect, and at night an integrated lighting design produces a shifting series of ‘compositions‘ lit from within the structure.

Read more about the project here.

Barcelona Sur Power Generation Plant / Forgas Arquitectes

Barcelona Sur Power Generation Plant / Forgas Arquitectes. Image © Simón García
Barcelona Sur Power Generation Plant / Forgas Arquitectes. Image © Simón García

The Barcelona Sur plant serves multiple functions: industry, offices, and spaces for public education of the sustainable processes and values it holds. The plant’s façade is manifested as a double skin, responding to the materials used in the internal processes such as mesh and timber logs, while incorporating considerations for shading and climate comfort.  

Read more about the project here.

Pålsbu Hydro Power Station / Manthey Kula Architects

Pålsbu Hydro Power Station / Manthey Kula Architects. Image Courtesy of Manthey Kula Architects
Pålsbu Hydro Power Station / Manthey Kula Architects. Image Courtesy of Manthey Kula Architects

Situated in Norway, the Pålsbu station generates clean energy from an old dam, optimizing its output rather than expending time, energy, and materials constructing a new system. The concrete chamber is shaped to echo and enhance the existing qualities of the dam: “the solidity of forms, the restraint of means, and the roughness of the craftsmanship.” The circular layout represents the rotation of water through the generator, while rainwater and snow running down the walls will enhance the growth of lichens on the concrete surface, gently integrating the structure with its rugged surroundings.

Read more about the project here.

Hydro-electric Powerstation / becker architekten

Hydro-electric Powerstation / becker architekten. Image © Brigida González
Hydro-electric Powerstation / becker architekten. Image © Brigida González

Situated on the banks of Germany’s River Iller, this station supports approximately 3000 households with clean energy. The form echoes the symbolic representation of water dynamics, progressing from a calm state at the inlet to the churning and pitching near the turbines, before returning to a calm state as the process concludes.  

Read more about the project here.

CopenHill Energy Plant and Urban Recreation Center / BIG

CopenHill Energy Plant and Urban Recreation Center / BIG. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu
CopenHill Energy Plant and Urban Recreation Center / BIG. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu

CopenHill, also known as Amager Bakke, offers a unique marriage of waste-to-energy plant and rooftop ski slope, hiking trail, and climbing wall, turning social infrastructure into an architectural landmark.  The eye-catching exterior façade is formed of 1.2x3.3m aluminum bricks, with glazing in between to allow natural light deep inside the facility. On the longest vertical façade, an 85m climbing wall has been installed to be the tallest artificial climbing wall in the world.

Read more about the project here.

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About this author
Cite: Niall Patrick Walsh. "The Powerful New Architecture of Clean Energy" 27 Jan 2020. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/932600/the-powerful-new-architecture-of-clean-energy/> ISSN 0719-8884
CopenHill Energy Plant and Urban Recreation Center / BIG. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu

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