The challenge is on to design a more aesthetically pleasing version of a common blight on the landscape: the electricity pylon. The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has launched a competition on behalf of DECC and the National Grid inviting architects, designers and engineers to produce a 21st-century pylon; there are currently about 22,000 pylons marching across 4,375 miles of the UK, mainly in the countryside, and the design is little changed since Sir Reginald Blomfield chose the current steel latticework tower in 1927. Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, who will chair the judging panel, explains: ‘The dual challenge of climate change and energy security puts us on the brink of a new energy construction age. The equivalent of 20 new power stations is needed by 2020, much more beyond that, and they’ll all need connecting to the Grid. It’s crucial that we seek the most acceptable ways of accommodating infrastructure in the landscape. I hope the competition will ignite creative excitement, but also help the public understand the scale of the energy challenge ahead.’

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Long stretches of pylons are planned to cross mid-Wales, Snowdonia, around the Lake District, through rural Lincolnshire, the Mendips, and in the Dedham Vale, Kent Downs and Weald AONBs. There are already pylons in six national parks and 13 AONBs. A spokesman for the CPRE, which has long campaigned against the increasing desecration of landscapes by ugly pylons, comments: ‘Essentially, we welcome this competition, but, for us, the main improvement to pylons would be to make them less conspicuous in the landscape or, better still, get rid of them altogether. We accept that changes to energy infrastructure will require new lines to link new power stations to the Grid, but we believe that it’s economically viable to run the lines underground or under the sea. Although a less intrusive design would be welcome, the real focus should be on how we can get pylons out of national parks and other valued landscapes and not put up any more.’ The CPRE is campaigning for National Grid to dismantle three lines of pylons in the long term; these stretch over 350 miles of countryside. It is also pressing National Grid and the new Infrastructure Planning Commission to ensure that any new lines are created in the least damaging manner and is urging the Government regulator Ofgem to cover this in its Transmission Price Control Review. National Grid’s executive director UK Nick Winser says that underground connection of electricity will be viable in some cases, but replacement pylons are also needed and the company is keen to support more visually acceptable examples.

The prize fund is £10,000 and entries close on July 12, after which shortlisted candidates will have the chance to finalise their designs in discussion with National Grid. The public will be invited to comment on the designs online and also at an exhibition at the V&A in September. To enter the competition, visit www.ribapylondesign.com