Thursday, April 25, 2013

Pylons, form and function

click photo to enlarge
It's usually the case that when the form of an object is based closely on its function the result is pleasing to the eye, but when styling, fashion and decoration become the dominant reason for a shape then too often the result is unsatisfactory. Bridges are structures where the functional imperative is invariably uppermost and the result is usually satisfying. So too is the case with most hand tools such as hammers or saws, and there are many other examples that can be used to illustrate the point. However, there is one structure where form follows function quite perfectly but the result is always awful - the electricity pylon.

Whenever I see pylons marching across the countryside like a line of giant people holding up a long skipping rope I do my best to mentally obliterate them. Try as I might I cannot appreciate the form that the designers came up with to carry the wires from power station to homes. I can admire it in an intellectual way, marvelling at the economy of means, the way the multitude of short pieces of angle iron are bolted together to form legs, bodies and arms, how lighter lengths are inserted for bracing and plates are used at important intersections, but I cannot see the pylon as a thing of beauty. Even were it not an alien interloper into fields, fens, estuary, moorland and mountain, but an object assembled and displayed for our delight, an aesthetic experience, I cannot love a pylon. At least not the current crop of them.

I have seen proposals for more "elegant"designs featuring tubes and curves, some with a touch of art nouveau about them, but I've never seen them in use anywhere. Perhaps one day. And perhaps then they will be held up as an example of the fact that styling can occasionally, very occasionally, trump function when it comes to producing a satisfying shape.

Today's pylon is a bit of an oddity. It is the last one in a long line that is configured to take the cables down to a substation. Consequently it is not quite as symmetrical as the usual 400kV pylon, a characteristic I have accentuated by photographing it off-centre.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 10.4mm (28mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/800
ISO: 125
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On