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Hydropower and Architecture

High design standards

Aesthetics aren’t everything. Industrial structures are much more heavily dependent on the functional demands that influence their architecture than other building categories.

The design of hydropower plants has to meet particularly high demands. Their size alone makes integrating them into an urban or natural environment a challenge. “The relationship
between context and scale is often given little consideration,” says Nanna Meidell, architect at the Norwegian consulting firm Norconsult. On top of this, there is also the expectation that power plants should be able to operate efficiently over a lifetime of more than 100 years. “Within this rather inflexible framework, the architect must focus on other design elements.”

Meidell has demonstrated what these look like with the Norwegian run-of-river power plant Vamma. She deliberately set the monolithic-looking new building in the shape of a cube apart from the older existing buildings by means of large panes of glass in the anthracite-colored facade that are almost reminiscent of stained glass windows, which gives the building an interesting look and creates an effect as positive as it is exciting.

Outstanding architecture in this type of project requires extraordinarily close collaboration with the engineers.
Nanna Meidell, Norconsult, Norway
Vamma, Hafslund
Exceptional Architecture: When designing the power plant building, chief architect Nanna Meidell worked closely with the engineers from the Norwegian power company E-CO Energi.
Vamma, Hafslund
One Kaplan turbine with special features: It is designed with five blades and its runner has an extremely small hub to achieve greater hydraulic efficiency.
A head of 28.5 meters is used for power generation. The hydropower station is located exactly where the edge of the Vammafossen waterfall used to be.
Vamma will now produce a total of 1,580 gigawatt hours per year, an increase of over 17%.
Project Duration
Development of Vamma 12 began in 2015. The power plant was commissioned in May 2019 and officially opened in September. The final tests were completed in December 2019.
The new Vamma 12 building is located somewhat away from the rest of the power plant, but shares a common reservoir with the other generating units.

Norway already covers 96% of its electricity needs with hydropower – but to secure a sustainable energy supply for the future, many power plants will need to be upgraded, refurbished, and improved. The country’s largest run-of-river power plant Vamma has been in operation since 1915. Now Vamma is taking a major step towards the future – with Voith’s help.

Vamma 12 was built as a completely new, independent generating unit. The dam didn’t need to be extended; however, only a separate inlet was built to connect the turbine with the reservoir used by the existing generating units. Within the scope of the largest new power plant project in Europe in the past 30 years, operator E-CO Energi added a twelfth turbine. It not only increases the plant’s capacity and offers greater flexibility, but above all, makes it future-proof.

Øvre Forsland
Transparency: Another example is the Norwegian small hydropower plant Øvre Forsland. It features glass surfaces in the facade that offer a view of the plant’s heart, the generator sets.
Explore Øvre Forsland
The transparency of the building’s architecture allows people to take a close look at these high-level technologies: the turbines and generators as the heart of the power plant.
Torkil Nersund, Production Manager, Helgeland Kraft
Iller Kraftwerk Kempten
Copyright: Brigida González, Stuttgart

Hydropower meets downtown

The German architect Michael Becker generally believes that the public accepts hydropower as a sustainable form of energy production. But this doesn’t mean that the architectural requirements are any less demanding. On the contrary!

A hydropower plant will always have to meet high design standards because it is part of the infrastructure that is currently changing and will shape our man-made environment even more than it does today.
Michael Becker, Becker Architects, Germany

Michael Beckers architectural firm designed the Iller power plant in Kempten, Germany, which has won several awards, and had to meet particularly high demands in the process, as the plant is not located in the middle of nowhere, but right downtown. This is why Becker covered the weir, inlet, and turbine house with a wave-like concrete sculpture, the shape of which subtly evokes associations with currents and water. “The Iller hydropower plant attempts to revitalize the industrial location, with its distinctive brick architecture and the historically significant series of bridges, as an urban space with an appealing atmosphere for the city’s residents,” explains the architect. Designed in this way, it represents a connecting element.

Read more in our HyPower magazine!
Øvre Forsland
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Last update: 2020-09-03

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