Landscape Architecture of Hydropower: The Landscape Project of Hydroelectric Infrastructures in Reservoirs of the Alps

Lakebed of Lake Molveno, Italy, during its partial emptying in February 2017. Photo © MarziaBo, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. Photo:

This dissertation addresses the design and planning of landscape in hydroelectric infrastructures in the Alps. Hydropower has risen since the industrial era to become a key source of energy and geomorphic factor, particularly in the Alpine mountain range. But whilst interventions both radical and extensive have been undertaken for the making of hydroelectric systems, the spaces generated by these operations have remained a topic subordinated to other concerns of a political, economic, and technical nature.

This dissertation confronts this status quo by questioning the landscapes of hydroelectric infrastructures in the case of reservoirs and the embedded water-land relations. By examining them in relation to urbaniza-tion processes in the Alps, it identifies the instances in which space becomes a question of high relevance and, thus, raises the question of its design and planning. Five Alpine reservoirs are examined in depth: Forggensee, Lac de Serre-Ponçon, Reschensee, Lag da Pigniu, and Triftsee. Each case is analyzed through time and scales, tracing the successive phases in the design of land-water interfaces and the spatial qualities thereby generated.

With these investigations, the study attempts to re-conceptualize the shaping of hydroelectric landscapes and through this to bridge a currently open gap in research on spatial design and planning. Its further aim is to stimulate debate on the form and role of hydropower in Alpine societies, as hydropower practices are called to play an important role in the near future in the light of the major challenges of climate change, growing energy consumption, and the transition to renewable energy supplies.

Doctoral fellow: Sarem Sunderland
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. h. c. Günther Vogt
Part of the research project Industrialisation in the Alps: Landscape, Architecture, Art, and Labour, supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)
Time frame: October 2019 – September 2022