Landscapes of energy

Apr 19, 2017

Highlighting the connection between design and energy landscapes

Landscapes of energy

When it comes to the relationship between design and energy, the narrative is often around consumption instead of production. Designers tend to focus on urban areas, which are the dominant sites where energy is consumed. Rural areas and so-called hinterlands, where the majority of energy is produced, are far less often considered. For people living in cities, there is a disconnect between a light switch and a hydroelectric dam.

Professor Kees Lokman’s course, Landscapes of energy, is seeking to address this disconnect by illuminating the areas where energy is being produced. His course teaches students about the implications of energy production and its effects on landscapes. “What happens if we consider every landscape as an energy landscape?” Kees said.

These new landscapes are the sites where energy is produced, stored, and transferred. They’re the sites of fossil fuel extraction like oil sands and shale gas deposits. But they also include forms of renewable energy production such as wind farms, solar fields, and biofuels. In all cases, energy landscapes are inherently tied to issues like climate change, environmental degradation, social justice and geopolitical conflicts.

Landscapes of Energy 1

Final projects are pinned up at an exhibition that included guests from UBC and Metro Vancouver.

One of the goals of the course is to challenge students to view energy as an issue that designers have to take on. “Beyond merely spatial and ecological, these issues are also very political,” Kees said. “But we’re part of the larger political system, so what role can designers play or contribute to these very important issues.”

The first part of the course combined historical research on different forms of energy production with weekly readings and class discussions on topics such as peak oil, the geopolitics of energy, the water-energy-food nexus, and social barriers to renewable energy. While relatively small in size, the course brought together urban design, landscape architecture, and architecture students.

Hannah, an urban design student, said: “Having an essential mix of students from a range of disciplines in this course allowed vital discussions to be had and recognition that some of these discipline barriers and silos needed to be broken down.”

Lanscapes of energy

A final project proposes integrating a biofuel plant and refinery into a community. Drawing by Julia Casol and Arron Griffioen.

The final part of the course concerned a collaborative project that speculated on ways in which energy could be incorporated into Metro Vancouver’s landscapes. Students looked at various aspects of the region, including the coast, the agricultural land reserve, the Fraser River corridor, the North Shore Mountains, and major transportation corridors, to see how energy production could be coupled with densification, habitat creation, flood control, and urban metabolism.

Jason Emmert, who is an Air Quality Planner with Metro Vancouver and a guest at the final presentation of course, said: “The portrayals of the existing and imagined landscapes which supply renewable energy were both thought provoking and inspiring.”

Another guest, Professor Martino Tran, said: “There’s a lot of exciting opportunities here for collaboration to bring a multi-disciplinary perspective on one of the most pressing challenges of our times - how to transition to a more sustainable energy system.”

Landscapes of energy

A final project proposes a landscape with agriculture, industrial, and residential mixed together. Drawing by Lacee Barr and Genevieve Depelteau​.

Kees hopes he will have the opportunity to teach the class a couple more times. He mentions: “I would like to have engineering and planning students join the course to create a truly transdisciplinary environment. This will also allow us to deepen our understanding of the quantitative aspects and policy implications of energy landscapes.”

Ultimately, the ambition is that research from the Landscapes of energy course will be compiled in a future publication on energy geographies.