IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - June 2021 - 22

Commentary
across the nation (Figure 6). A postbox could be a
bland and utilitarian piece of street furniture, but a
little care in design elevates and humanizes it, and
wins the affection of its user.
A few simple points are noteworthy. They are
kept painted in a vibrant color; decorative elements
are provided in the form of the ornate royal cypher
at the front and fluted cap to the top; the exterior
is finished in high-quality cast iron with internal
fixings concealed. By insisting on a humane and
attractive design, and applying it consistently over
space and time, the U.K. Post Office has enhanced
the visual amenity of towns and cities across the
country and has won the hearts of the British people.
Electric utilities should emulate this with their
powerlines, which are instead perceived as a blight
on the landscape.
It would be tempting to use cheap-and-nasty
materials for a postbox, as it is easy not to care about
so bland a piece of street furniture as a receptacle for
mail. Just erect the cheapest solution that will get the
job done, and even (God forbid) cover it in advertising
to eke out a little extra revenue. A lot of engineers
think this way, which is absolutely a shame.
A postbox on a busy street corner might have seen
millions of people pass by over its long life (many of
the postboxes in the UK were erected in the late Victorian
era). Each of these moments is an opportunity
to brighten up someone's day. Even if the cheering
effect of an attractive postbox is quite negligible in a
secluded area, surely the extra cost is justified when
amortized across its long and highly visible life.
Therefore, the most fundamental requirement
for a humane electricity infrastructure is creating a
standard design for an electricity pylon that is visually
attractive and elegant. For instance, consider
the sleek winner of a recent architectural competition
on this topic (Figure 7). Various other attractive
and creative pylon designs are described in
[5]. Architects and designers know how to make
utilitarian objects appear graceful and attractive:
there is nothing special about transmission pylons,
which means they need to be eternally ugly. Engineers
need to embrace the important skills that
architects can offer here as esthetics do matter.
Again, the most important thing is simply to get the
basics right: there should be no exposed fittings,
no bare metal, nothing cheap, or dirty-looking.
Given the longevity of pylons, the template designs
should not be too reflective of the prevailing
22
Figure 4. Pylons at the temple complex
of Karnak, near Luxor in Egypt, by Albert
Henry Payne circa 1850.
architectural fashions, either (recall the tailor's
advice to a groom buying a wedding suit: those
photos will be on the mantelpiece for a long time!).
The template design will need to accommodate a
" family " of tower types for the various operating
voltage levels, and the different structural roles
Figure 5. Milepost punctuating the run of
the Trent and Mersey Canal, humanizing
this transport link and embedding it
into the existing landscape. Photo by
Milestone Society Sshu94 CC-BY-SA 2.0.
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine

IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - June 2021

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