Hydroelectric Infrastructural Landscapes | On the Manipulation of Time and Nature

“We don’t know where our first impressions come from or precisely what they mean, so we don’t always appreciate their fragility”
– Malcolm Gladwell

In The Earth Has a Future, Steven Ian Dutch pointed:

A less conventional way to visualize geologic time is to peer into the future. Even short geologic time scales outrun our ability to project human history, whereas many geologic processes will have barely begun to produce visible changes.

In the context of such geologic processes and its relationship with man-made artificial natures, we find that the Norwegian power landscape is a formed by a prolific infrastructure of water tunnels, surface water collection systems, maintenance tunnels, and turbine halls, all acting as parts in hidden machine. And all this hidden hydrologic machines converts a natural resource to currency in an instant, as pointed by Paisajes Emergentes on their last workshop Plugged in Landscapes. We have published before some posts about the interest of Paisajes Emergentes on atmospheric conditions and geology, and this time we’re focusing on how human impacts already equal or surpass many natural processes and how we can react to this situation.

To understand all this facts, we’re going to review some of the students projects produced during the workshop.

[1] Stressure by Fredrik Blom

Frederik Blom started his project wondering if is our western epidemical stress a result of a greater agency, harvesting mankind of unknown goods. His research on clouds in mountainscape was based on the impact of the clouds in the Norwegian county of Telemark, which according to him is massive. In one condition the mountainous landscape appears as a tremendously giant hall in which people easily diminish into silence. The sky is lifted up by cloud pillars and mountain rock and the dynamic shape of clouds derives and varies by the movement of air by pressure and the topography of the land. One can even see how cloud shape by a mere group of spruce. He wrote:

When the pressure is high in one region, often due to the sun heating a earth surface, the air rises and moisture collects and appears visually as clouds at altitudes of colder air temperature. The clouds then flows to regions of lower pressure and fall closer to ground as their weight grows heavier than the air below. So the densest atmospherical experience occurs by low pressure.

Related with this atmospheric low pressure phenomena, hydroelectric power also derives from altering pressure. That’s why Blom decided to work with these two main issues and create a stressure observatory. If the pressure of the water in the hydroelectric power plant is somehow untouchable and easily turns too abstract to grasp, by using our human experience of dense weather, the mystic fact of the water pressure turning the turbine wheel can be communicate in an observatory.


Tunnel interior.


Isometric drawing: stressure observatory.

The results inside the stressure observatory is that when attendants pass through the observatory, a densification of the atmosphere continues until reaching a peak at the center section, from where it fades back to normal conditions. The invoking atmosphere is silent and stressure becomes a conception of our mental condition influenced by loads and limits.

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[2] Powergarden by Annabel Danson

The inspiration for Danson’s projects comes from her research on the western part of Telemark, which is known for it’s myserious, wet landscapes, resulting in ancient mythological folktales. This part of the Norwegian landscape was transformed in the early 1960s when the hydroelectric plants and dams were installed. On her project, these dams are composed of local materials, with consideration of the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape. The powerplants have been neatly hidden and tucked away inside the mountain, creating a system of dark, underground tunnels that live their own lives without the common (wo)mans knowledge. As Dutch pointed, “Any attempt to predict technology far in advance is bound to be almost pure speculation…” And is even more interesting to speculate not only with technology, but with its relationship with nature and how we are working on the “architectural reconstruction of nature.”


The Power Garden

With this project Annabel Danson proposes a luminescent fungi, where lichen and moss will cover the walls and surface of the dark tunnel, gradually building up a layer of earth that provides a foundation for other plants.

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[3] Imaginary Landscape by Patrycja Perkiewicz

Did you noticed that you are surrounded by lines? Pipes, roads, taken everyday paths, flow, books, shelves.. Imagine the place with screams with geometrical shapes where you can become a part of the grid and feel the connection?

This is the first part of Perkiewicz’s statement for her project “Imaginary Landscapes”. In a context of 108 km of transfer tunnels and 32 dams, where more than 140 km of access roads where built to extend the service of hydroelectric power plants in Tokke area; she proposes to create a new landscape inspired by the rock joints, the energy transmitters and neurons connections.

We are not used to seeing massive constructions like dams and power plants, although they are part of our “natural” landscape, as power is an integral part of our existence: A symbiosis between man, machine and the natural world. When analyzing the technological presence of industrial landscapes in our lives, Perkiewicz wonders if maybe these modifications never took place —as all images are the products of how our
brain and its interpretation of electrical pulses?

If hydroelectric power is to become one of the major energy solutions, the interest and importance in those structures will rise, therefore places like Songa dam will become a part of a public experience in the future. So, the “Imaginary Landscapes” proposal is based in a new way of perceiving the dam’s scenery by using electrical output as a final product and main reason for water regulation in the area. Let’s say, energy that stimulates our senses and allows us to feel and better understand the existing conditions, in this case Songa dam and the tunnel connecting it with Trolldals dam. As a result, Patrycja Perkiewicz ads, “a journey that starts at Trollsdals dike and continues inside the tunnel will be different and very versatile personal experience for each and every visitor.” This is how she creates an imaginary landscape.

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We started quoting Steven Ian Dutch and now we can quote him again to start our final reflection:

Observers a million years hence will be able to look at our era in its geologic context. Will they see another great mass extinction as Leakey and Lewin [1996] warn? It is certainly within our power to create one. If we remain within the limits of environmental sustainability, what will future observers see?

All this questions are deeply related with the idea that humankind and its manifestations are part of nature, where natural and technological systems should coexist. Maybe the students of this workshop are just designing the post-natural future described by David Gissen on his article The Architectural Reconstruction of Nature, where he describes buildings with the forms of mountains and caverns; and structures that appear as rivers and clouds.

If Gissen wonders “What could be more modern than demonstrating the manipulation of time and nature in one project?”, here we can see that the differences between natural and technological landscapes are nothing more than cultural imagery. We want to end remembering what Lebbeus Woods wrote:

Space is essentially a mental construct.
We imagine space to be there, even if we experience it as a void,
an absence we cannot perceive.
If space is mental and non-material,
what does this say about our relationships to the world?

This kind of projects are a good reminder that now it’s time to re-think the relationship between us and the world, between nature and technology and all the question within our association with nature.

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Plugged in Landscapes | Workshop with Paisajes Emergentes.
September 2011

The course spent a weekend in and around Tokke and Vinje hydroelectric facilities mapping and evaluating the hidden infrastructure of these particular power landscapes. The workshop seeked to investigate the possibility of opening up the power landscape to the public in a way that both raises awareness of the hidden power infrastructure and its operations and of the dams as installed landscape.

Instructors: Luis Callejas, Janike Kampevold Larsen, Lukas Pauer.


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