Virkkunen & Co designs sculptural substation and pylons in Finland

Finnish practice Virkkunen & Co has completed a sculptural series of electricity infrastructure in Imatra, Finland, which has been shortlisted in the business building category of Dezeen Awards 2021.

Comprising five pylons in white steel and a perforated brick substation, the collection of structures is dotted across a protected national landscape close to a historical hydropower plant in the Imatra Rapids.

Substation and pylons by Virkkunen & Co
The project includes a substation and pylons

The site was the starting point of Finland’s main electricity grid in the 1920s, a fact that drove the Helsinki-based studio to create a unique series of structures intended to demonstrate how infrastructure can complement a natural setting.

“The new transmission structures seek balance with the surrounding built and natural landscape,” explained Virkkunen & Co.

“Except for one tall tower, they are lower in height than the surrounding treetops, and the lower floor of the substation is set underground to make the building as low as the nearest section of the old power plant.”

Inside the substation by Virkkunen & Co
An interior view of the substation

The substation building was constructed using brick on a concrete frame in reference to these old power plant buildings but laid in a distinctive zig-zag pattern, with the upper section perforated to create a porous lattice that allows light and air to pass through.

Inside this outer grey brick wall is a second skin of in-situ concrete walls, providing further protection and environmental control for the substation with upper-level windows that allow natural light to enter.

This is complemented by three types of pylon across the site: a tall tower with diamond-shaped cross-arms; two low, triangular pylons with a horizontal series of cross-arms; and two terminals with a horizontal arrangement of abstracted tree-like forms.

Each of these elements is made from prefabricated and welded white steelwork which the electricity cables attach directly to, allowing for the minimal design to avoid the addition of a secondary structure.

Differently shaped pylons feature across the landscape

“The material choices, forms, and colours of the new structures are abstract and timeless…[for] the new facilities to stand out but to not overpower the views of the area,” said the studio.

“The project is an example of how even an infrastructure project can benefit a sensitive and significant environment.”

The electricity infrastructure is in Imatra, Finland
The project is positioned on a protected site

The substation and terminals are all in a fully accessible part of the national landscape, without the addition of any barriers or fences.

In the UK, architecture studio Grimshaw recently revealed designs for electricity substations and ventilation shafts for the HS2 high-speed railway in the Chilterns, disguised as zinc-clad rural barns to lessen their impact on the landscape.

Photography is by Tuomas Kivinen and Max Plunger

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