aesthetic transmission design

Transmission Line Design Competition Open for Entries

April 14, 2017
The purpose of this competition is to promote aesthetic consideration for transmission lines

Several ‘transmission line folks’ have been discussing for some time how we could start a movement to make transmission lines more architectural and aesthetically pleasing. Maybe if we were to do so, then the general public wouldn’t think of them as so ugly and therefor MAY not fight future lines as much?  And thus the Aesthetic Competition Series (ACS) was born.

How ASC is different from other design competitions     

There have been numerous aesthetic competitions over the years, but they usually were not led by transmission engineers. As a result, many of these ‘winning designs’ were not even structurally possible to use as ‘pylons.’  Some have been possible, but the engineering wasn’t thought of up front, so there have been many challenges in either the structures themselves such as orienting the conductors correctly to maintain electrical clearances and line construction such as building foundations, erecting the structures, pulling the conductors, etc.  I personally find it entertaining to read the many articles about the ‘new and modern’ steel pole structures that are being proposed around the world to replace traditional lattice towers; we’ve been successfully using them in North America now for going on five decades so there really is nothing new about them.

How the criteria are set for the competition

We decided to devote our own time into this effort for a transmission line aesthetic completion, but we would approach it from an engineering standpoint where the fundamental purpose of a transmission line is to provide a “safe, reliable, and resilient transmission of electricity”. If the structures can’t possibly be built, or the conductors can’t be properly arranged, if the structures can’t be constructed, if the conductors can’t be strung, or if the design isn’t reliable, resilient, safe, or economical, then it is a nonstarter.  If these goals aren’t accomplished first, then aesthetics shouldn’t even be considered.

When aesthetics are considered     

Once these primary functions are met, THEN we can consider aesthetics.

Aesthetics doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of money.  I’ve learned a lot during the past year or so that we have been working on this and have read a lot of architectural papers and references, both in and out of our industry.  As summarized in the judging criteria, aesthetics comes down to Proportion, Order, Balance, and Emphasis.  An economical ‘sleek’ structure that has the appropriate proportions and balance can be more aesthetically pleasing than a very complex, expensive structure that may draw too much attention to it.  Little things like just upsweeping the arms add little to no costs but can add a lot to the visual value. But the last thing we need to see are structures that look exactly like the ‘loading tree’ diagrams!

What the structure can be

This can also be more than just a structure; it could be the overall impact of an entire line in the landscape setting.  It can be a ‘landmark’ structure on an otherwise simple line, or it could be the repetition of eye candy structures.  For example, in my opinion one of the most aesthetically pleasing aspects of an overall line is ‘order.’  With today’s climate of accommodating the public’s demands and wishes, and the various permitting requirements induced on us, we are ending up with what I think are some pretty ugly lines where every structure is different, some sections have short structures, some sections have tall structures, some are single poles, some are big frames, and the wires are rolling in every which direction with no rhyme or reason. Instead of the line fading into terrain, it ends up sticking out like a sore thumb that you can see forever. We must look at the overall impact of the entire transmission line. 

Parameters and judging criteria

So after a year or so of working on it, we finally came up with our plan of providing a set of engineering design drawings that have all of the environmental, structural, and electrical design requirements spelled out up front; these “Engineering Design Parameters” are available on the ACS website at  The associated Judging Criteria are at  The contest is in two stages; the first stage is functional.  The initial conceptual designs are submitted and evaluated by the committee from a functional standpoint and feedback will be given.  The second stage is where the aesthetic properties will be evaluated.

Who can participate

We want this effort to be educational and to promote our industry for those that may not know about it.  I had NO IDEA what a transmission line was when I went to college; I thought I was going to be designing bridges and dams.  We welcome students and ‘non transmission’ people to participate.  We have mentors available to volunteer their time to help them, or even participate on a team with them.  We also welcome collaboration between professional Architectural and Engineering firms.

What the winner (and industry) get 

The first place winner will receive a $10,000 cash prize.  The top three entries will be publicly recognized at the upcoming ASCE/SEI ETS conference in Atlanta (Nov. 4 - 8, 2018).  We plan to have the top three designs 3D printed and on display at the conference as well.

Unlike the other contests, all entries will be public domain and anyone is free to use them or copy from them. This is pretty important to us as we all believe that this is for the overall betterment of our society.

See for more details. 

About the Author

Otto J. Lynch

Otto J. Lynch is president and CEO, Power Line Systems. He is a member of American Society of Civil Engineers, IEEE, and National Electrical Safety Code. He is a registered professional engineer.

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