The New Challenge: Stressing the Physiognomy of the Environment Using Renewable Energies and Co-Generation Installations

By Eva Michalena and Prof. Joseph Stefanou
January 2004

Ms. Michalena is a Special Advisor at the Regulatory Authority for Energy (RAE), in Athens, Greece and a Researcher at the NTUA Laboratory of Urban Design. Professor Stefanou conducts research at the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA). The presentation of their paper has taken place at the second International Conference for the Environment in Bulgaria, on June 6th, 2003. → See also:

Recent Studies of the NTUA Laboratory of Urban Design on the field of the area´s physiognomy, have reached a number of remarkable conclusions. This derives from the fact that this type of studies allows a scientific and systematic approach to a subject that until now was only approached in an artistic and sentimental way.
Moreover, the recent increase of the international interest in Mild and Renewable Energy Sources, adds a new demanding parameter into the already complicated and multifaced issue of the area´s physiognomy.
Greece, a country with intensely different local characteristics and therefore areas with strong physiognomic character, is also rich in Renewable Energy Sources.
Nowadays, Greece has the opportunity and the obligation at the same time to develop and efficiently use these Sources. So the basic question raised is how is possible for a country and for Greece itself to successfully maintain and promote the physiognomy of its areas and at the same time to utilize efficiently the vast potential of its renewable energy sources.

Introduction - The scientific and artistic approach of the Renewable energy facilities through the science of Urban Design

The Laboratory of Urban Design of the National Technical University of Athens, has been researching for some years now the renewable energies´ contribution in the energy balance as regards the improvement of the area´s physiognomy through the interoperability between the energy´s installations and the region´s physiognomy.

Our research, aims at the fusion of a technocratic/logical and an artistic/emotional approach with a view of promoting a viable and stable solution. The main conclusion deducted so far is that in a particular area, the adoption of architectural design in energy´s installations can lead to substantial benefits. The cities and the suburban areas of the Future are closely related to the energy dimension, in a - not only - technical and economical way, but also in a social and culturally interlinked relation. By examining in a closer way the characteristic aspects of the renewables facilities, we may find ourselves in a position to design a specific installation of the Renewables´ installations in a way that reinforces the area´s physiognomy, making these installations more easily incorporated - from cultural and technical point of view - in the area.

To have a better understanding of the specific physiognomy of an area, «one needs to be strongly passionate for the recognition and experience of its virtues» (1). Local physiognomy and the installation of energy facilities, viewed through the prism of the Urban Design and architectural approach, offers the comparative advantage of the simultaneous scientific and artistic approach in a subject which would be deficient if studied in a single approach- way.

Under this assumption, we considered as our obligation to research the correlation between the local physiognomy and the installation of renewable energy facilities, as we have the honour to inhabit a country rich in local physical qualities as well as renewable sources of energy.

The need for Renewable Energy systems

As we all know, the need for the development of Renewable Energy Sources (RES), derives from the difficult position the world economies are, because of the double threat around us, caused by the environmental deterioration and the exhaustion of the fossil fuels.

Since the Oil Crises in the 1970´s, The European Union and the rest of the developed countries, have been trying to define a stable framework of strategic development objectives in the energy field, giving priority to the environmental protection, as is well known that «any action related to energy has impacts on the environment» (2)

Numerous conferences, studies, workshops, and working documents, have dealt with topics relative to the subject of innovating technological solutions and core areas such as the environmental protection, the energy production and consumption, urban matters, regional planning and many other developments relative to clean energy. These efforts resulted in the development of technologies which offer plenty of energy with a very favourable ratio "value for money" invested (Renewable energy or Co-generation of Heat and Power (CHP), for example).

In addition to the need for the development of RES, the recent World Conference held in Kyoto has defined new objectives for Europe, relative to the reduction of pollutant emissions. These objectives have to be attained in order to ensure sustainable growth and therefore, Europe has already been committed to cover the 22% of its total energy requirements from RES by 2010, an obligation that demands the building of appropriate power plants (wind parks, hydroelectric power plants, photovoltaic units, etc) and the adoption of new approaches, attitudes and positions.

Given that the aim is to lower the pollutants´ negative impact on the environment, it would be sufficient to move to a rationalized scheme of fuels diversivication, if two different problems hadn´t been arisen: the increased cost and the integration of these facilities in the environment.

The Local Communities´ reactions

Assuming that the technological development and mass production will allow to decrease the total costs, we will focus our investigation on the second - and harder to solve - problem, which is directly related to the reactions of the Local Community. In order to highlight the importance of the issue, it has to be cited here that although Greece was the first country in the years of 1980 to install the first Wind Park in Europe, nowadays, 23 years later, the country´s wind energy market is limited mainly due to the Local Communities´ reactions. Therefore, an increasingly disappointing dilemma emerges: Despite the fact that people have more access to detailed information about natural phenomena and their interrelations, and the urban human often seeks opportunities to make excursions into Nature, less and less people actually have access to any natural environments. For human´s conscience, the image of the still and quiet landscape is powerful. Under this superstition, what was viewed as normal becomes dubious, and therefore the natural resources are in themselves immoral.

In Greece, an increased participation of local communities is frequently observed in all decisions taken, concerning the installation of energy plants in their areas. Indifference as regards environmental protection is no longer acceptable by local communities, which often raise their voices against the deterioration of the physical environment, as regards the plants which produce energy by renewable energy sources (Wind parks, hydroelectric plants, biomass installations, photovoltaic systems etc). In order to make a presentation of the current situation, we would like to state the example of the Greek island Siros, the ecology associations of which have protested against the installation of a Wind Park in a specific picturesque area of the island.

Therefore, it´s necessary for energy authorities to convince local communities that the benefits resulted from the clean energy facilities, counterbalance the cost of the environmental negative impacts, if they exist.

As it will be proved further on, part of the expected benefits which may result from the installation of the Renewable Energy Facilities, is the preservation of the aesthetical and historical character of a region. This parameter is very important because, as it influences powerfully people´s conscience, we need not only accept but also welcome this new kind of energy technologies. Researches conducted on the topic of an area´s identity, have reached the conclusion that except monuments and the other natural and cultural funds of an area, even a large technical project, such as a small hydroelectric plant, could also be viewed as an element which transforms and even adorns the specific physiognomy of a region (1).

The meaning of the "area´s physiognomy" and the methodology of making it sensible by scientific methods

Starting from the opinion that what "we call physiognomy of an area is the experienced description of its icon" (1), it is easy to understand that what we pursue in the installation of the Renewable energy facilities in a region, is the creation of a touching dimension, since - according to psychologists - "emotions are essential for the experience of the memory" (1)

The term "physiognomy" concerns the human being and its soul and, speaking for the physiognomy of an area, we examine the area from a human point of view and therefore, we search its specific character. The systematic analysis of an area and its correlation with all its ideological and sentimental elements is the methodology which could lead our research to the concretion of an area´s identity and its amplification through the installation of a Renewable facility.

Through methods, such as semiotics, we will aim at designing the character of the urban or village areas, by highlighting the morphemes which shape the visual icon of a region and the morphemes we receive by our other senses from this region. We will then locate the basic qualities of the area. In a further step we need to examine the technological and methodological options available for the sustainable installation of energy facilities, trying to reach our conclusions in full accordance with the region´s qualities.

It´s interesting to note here, that former researches of the Laboratory have come up with the discovery of an area´s qualitative evaluation through the following indicators : The grade of its originality, the variety of its elements, the power of imposing, the capability of new icons´ creation, the symbolism´s grade, the sensitivity and complication grades e.t.c. All these parameters lead to the correspondence of an area with a specific aesthetic category, which means that they create the impression formatted by an observer or an inhabitant of an area.

The emergence of a region´s physiognomy, has to do with all five senses of the human being, which are responsible for the creation of his physiognomic conscience, for the reason that human feels satisfaction when all his five senses are satisfied. Therefore, an area becomes a stimulus which is perceived from someone by the creation of separate and distinct images. The inner feeling caused by all these images is what we call the physiognomy of a place and this phenomenon contributes to the feeling of belonging to the area, and therefore has to be protected and if possible strengthened. The Urban planner, by researching the separate images perceived by all five senses could suggest the planning of a renewable energy facility in such a way that will cause the improvement of an area´s physiognomy, as the listing of the separate images produced by each sense is necessary for saving and preserving an area´s historic content and not only its picture.

The finding of the specific morphemes, which satisfy the five senses of the humans who experience the attitudes of the same "local" identity, is very important because it favourites the creation of an area´s atmosphere where people want to live together, following their social, economic, scientific and cultural environment.

After the researcher has defined the features of the physiognomy of an area, he needs to compose them, and also to extract by them any "good" sense which concerns this specific area, any feature that deserves to be maintained and passed on next generation. What we mean by "good" here, is not only the "nice" and "harmonic" which pleases the eye of the observer but also the sense of the vision created into one´s mind : In the case of the Renewable energy plants, for example, this vision concerns not only the clear energy, but also, new architectural creations and advanced technological concepts. The observer now includes himself into this vision, becomes part of it and promises in a silent way to contribute to its realization. Thus, one correlates his inner world with the world which surrounds him, creating a special relation, a non tangible liaison let´s say, between his own character and the character of the area´s environment. What we observe here, is a need for communication between the human being and the surrounding nature, a long existing need, through which the human lets his personality be expressed and his life progress. Therefore, humans create the limits of their own space, defining a vague frame of principles and values which they manage to pass on through the years.

The finding of the specific morphemes, which satisfy the five senses of the humans united by the attitudes of the same "local" identity, is very important because it favourites the creation of an area´s atmosphere where people wants to live together, following their social, economic, scientific and cultural environment.

As we all know, there is no region lacking interest of any kind: whether we are inhabitants or simple observers, we are linked to a region by what we make out of it, the emotions we feel, the experiences we live in, or the judgments we make for it. For all of us, every region has a character, an identity, the lack of which means in any case, lack of ideology and values.

The coexistence of aesthetics and functionalism into an area

During the conference of Lisbon in 1998 an opinion expressed was that "the ecological city must be built today in accordance with the needs of tomorrow and therefore we need to create urban, economic, cultural, and environmental conditions which shall allow us to live in a modern European city, rich though by the elements of the local cultural heritage" (3)

This historical identity is highlighted by the architectural creations that this region includes. What seems to be the problem with the recent architectural concepts is that they remain stuck in traditional morphemes which lack inspiration. This is due to the fact that there is exactly this absence of the local qualities, of what we call a "specific physiognomy of a specific era", so the recent architectural effort seems to turn into a bad copy of the past, having as main characteristics the negligence and the lack of personal testaments. Having been influenced by this phenomenon, the recent Urban Planning Science focuses primarily on the emerging cultural essence of older architectural state-of-the art creations, leaving in merge some of the rest characteristic features of the region, which even if they seem of a lower importance, they indicate a functionalism which, if promoted in the appropriate architectural way will reflect efficiently the economic and the cultural environment of a city. Therefore, the aesthetic image and the functional part of a city, appear to be contemporary social and cultural messages.

To illustrate the coexistence of the recent aesthetics and the functionalism concerning the built environment using renewable energies and Co-generation installations, I have chosen the example of the Greek city Thessaloniki, which is the second larger city of Greece : In the years to come, Greece will be a transit center for the distribution of oil and gas, arriving mainly from the East to central and western European markets, and the energy center of Balkan states as well. Thessaloniki, will be transformed into an energy business centre which - on its part - cannot miss such opportunities and fail to respond to the challenges of a very promising business future, neither could resist to the installation of new power plants on its territory.

In this case, the urban landscape of Thessaloniki, must be conceived not only based on the aesthetic demands of the current era, but also including the special commercial functionalism seems to govern the city for the year to come. The power plants to be constructed in Thessaloniki, will acquire year by year the identity of architectural mark benches, which will reflect one of the reasons of the city´s existence.

Therefore, Thessaloniki will become a historical and modern city at the same time, where traditional and modern urban functions co-exist alongside with the main sectors of human activity and where functional uses reflect through the different ages the professional, economical and social aspects of its physiognomy.

Leo Krier believes that the «industrial civilization is uncapable of creating beautiful and meaningful lands» (1). This theory can be doubted in the case of the renewable energy facilities: While this kind of power units are financed by national and European funds because of their environmentally friendly nature, it is obvious that the senses of beauty and beneficial coexist into their installation.

The innovative nature of Renewable Energy Systems

As far as the innovative nature of these facilities is concerned, it´s scientifically proved that "no innovation can be isolated from its environment and context" (1). Innovative equipment is considered as part of a "system" which intents to fulfil a "function" and consequently RES installations are here to play a fundamental part in the desire for improvement of peoples´ living conditions. An example of that is the increasing attention which has been paid to building - integrated photovoltaic systems, in countries such as Germany, Switzerland, Japan and in particular the USA. By installing a photovoltaic system on a building, we add colors and shapes to it in order to fulfil it with functionalism and sentimentality and integrade it in a specific time dimension. Generally speaking, what is meant by that is that the successive installation of power equipment in an area, inter-links eras´ memories and defines a framework which is received as part of our cultural heritage. Over the past few decades for example, central heating in most homes has been one of the most significant improvements to quality of life for ordinary people, whereas the trend of the future is the heating together with the energy supply, through a co-generation system, implemented in the central domestic heating system.

By the installation of innovative Power plants, we create areas aiming at the fulfillment of energy needs through renewable sources of energy. Therefore, we add to the local elements of the area, the element of the entrepreneurship which is friendly towards the environment. We then transform the area, in order to fulfil new needs which are created in our lives by respecting at the same time its physiognomy. This structure we have just created will be re-transformed again many times through the years, depending on the needs born, and then we will enjoy a continual movement through the years, but still restricted within the limits which identify the personality of an area, the «Unification of a region» (4).

RES equipments against similarity

The reason of identifying the cultural elements in an area, is that we live in an era where the term "city" is moving between two extremes: The one of the total isolation of each human being within a mass of similarly frustrated human beings and the other one of a universal world where everything is made to be moved into a massive and pre-arranged way.

The identification and the promotion of an area´s identity is a very important undertaking, because people are used to showing their individual and social character through the area they inhabit, a character which is lost into a similar international physiognomy, where humans have copied attitudes in a very easy way, losing though their own memories.

To prove the essential part played by a power plant against the boring similarity of two areas, let´s imagine two landscapes with similar features and similar identity. Afterwards, let´s install two Wind Parks and observe the way in which these power units add features in the two areas: If the two Wind Parks are constructed in a way that adopts the local characteristics and particularities of the two regions of our example, will, for sure, create very differentiated visual and environmental effects that will add to the personality of each area. If the two Wind Park´s installation is identical, then the architectural result will be very poor and this poverty will create frustration and hostility in the local populations.

We must point out that that the architectural differentiation does not only concern two different areas of a single country, but also two different countries as well, when there is the need for highlighting their unique architectural and cultural civilization.

Recent international manufacturing firms of energy equipment, are capable of producing high quality products with high precision and create composite products which are impossible to be nationally produced. Therefore, a speed at the production and construction is achieved, on evermore financially favourable terms. On the other hand, these products have created uniform appearances in most European regions. In Greece, locally constructed windmills, for example, which are different even amongst Greek islands are replaced by wind parks, and so therefore we see the same high metallic mast with flags all over not only Greece but Europe as well.

The aesthetic dimension of the physiognomy of an area, includes all these elements of a mental, emotional and operational dimension and therefore the power plant to be installed has to be not only energy sufficient, but also to create sentiments of acceptance to the human being that interacts with it.

The installation of a Wind Park for instance, could vanish the tiring similarity and the lack of identity of an area where it will be installed. Considering as given the need of human society for energy, the existence of a Wind Park in an area, transmits the message of energy friendly to the environment, a value which man receives through totally innovative equipment and thus, reflects his current - post modern - way of life.

RES are a ring in energy history

Therefore, the Wind Park could be the next ring in an energy facilities´ chain which transmits in a persuading way a country´s energy history.

This energy history, will reflect differences of rhythm between the past and current life, between the ancient and the contemporary business and economic activities. These differences are so intense, that make us accept the change as the central motive of our different approaches and practices.

The observation, listing and knowledge of the elements which compose the spirit of an area, do not concern only elements of the present, but also elements of the past and the vision of the future, qualitative elements. The research of an area´s qualities leads to what we call "the identity of an area, or its physiognomy".

The plants of the renewable energies and Co-generation are not seen as separate technological equipments, but as parts of the physical environment, be it major city, a town or a village. Environments are the real basis of our lives stages, so they are strongly related to our everyday activities and our national sense of history. Whether the physical parts of the surrounding environment change continuously (new buildings are added, others are demolished, old uses replaced by more contemporary ones) the total historical memory of a region is a stable, a long and complicated process of facts produced, attitudes expressed, and relations implemented. The most remarkable aspect in all this procedure is that if we try to envisage the future environment, one thing is sure: That it will be different, though with a physiognomy stable through the years. Using renewable energy equipments as historical elements it´s our obligation to provide opportunities for this historical stability into the general frame of the development and change of a region.

Examples of Renewable Energy Systems and Co-generation plants, harmonically integrated into nature

The reality, which everyone has in mind for an area, must not be diluted, it must be overtaken through a process that is efficient only if humans participate through their activity in this area.

For example, visiting a hydroelectric plant harmonically located into the nature, one may find an attractive, green area with running waters, lanes of trees and areas for leisure. Thus, the hydroelectric plant is being filled by elements which, even if they are not always obvious, they create fade and latent impressions to the observer or to the inhabitant of an area. Furthermore, if the local inhabitants are persuaded, that the energy consumed by a family is derived by a hydroelectric plant which is installed near their property and consequently their survival is directly depended on this plant, then this facility will turn out to be an essential element of the area´s physiognomy, of the reality that these people feel with their eyes and their soul.

As far as the physiognomy of a city is concerned, the Co-generation of Heat and Power Units and the Biomass Units, must be in such a way located in the region so as to create a healthy and acceptably qualified urban environment by strengthening simultaneously the tradition and the physiognomy of the area. There may exist "industrial areas" in order to separate heavy pollution from residential areas and to maximize the economic advantages from industrial "symbiosis", where wastes from one usage could be raw materials for another use. An appropriate urban planning aims at the strengthening of the local physiognomy and aims at the coexistence of the comparative advantages of the city with its natural, cultural and aesthetic funds. The city must dispose a rich variety of cultural expression in architecture, institutions and activities, having a spirit of its own, by meeting at the same time the needs of the citizens.

The legal documentation of the energy innovative plants´ integration

We realize that for all the above mentioned theoretical and scientific approaches, there is no evident legal base for the protection of the environment´s physiognomy. The research of the environmental legislation has ended up to the conclusion that although European legislation is evolving according to the social, economic, technological and intellectual status of the current era, for RES facilities in particular the legislation is restricted in the demand for environmental studies dealing with the RES installations´ consequences in the environment.

In the case though of the renewable energies´ installation, Law could intervene, for example, by forcing the constructive firms to protect the cultural surroundings of the installation´s area. I would like to mention here the example of a constructive firm which in parallel with the erection of a Wind Park in a Greek island, financed the revelation and tourist promotion of a numb stone wood which had been discovered near the Wind Park.

The importance of the Study for the Physiognomy´s Revelation of an area

According the above elaborated analysis, a Study for the Physiognomy´s revelation of an area through the renewable energies and Co-generation installations seems to be necessary in order to spot the characteristic features of a region, to research the problems which interrupt all the supply of local characteristics, to find solutions for dealing with them and methods of revealing local features which seem to be of a inferior value, but finally are of an intense latent physiognomic intension. In this Study, it is important to detect the nature of the observer who is interested in a specific area and the special elements of the area which create positive emotions to the observer and which stimulate his imagination. Moreover, we have to examine the limits of an area and highlight the features which pertains to our five senses. Finally, the area has to be interpreted in three levels (practical, psychological and ideological) in order to make known its functions, the sentiments it creates and the memories that brings into the mind of the observer. In a few words, what is important is to trace «the emotional dimension of the area´s physiognomy» (1), and to systematize the available physiognomic information.

In a smaller scale, the Study must emphasize the fact that specific features of an area are concluded in a «relations´ network» (1), which means they are interrelated and inter - influenced. Therefore, the design of a renewable energy facility´s installation in an area, has to ensure not only the "linking" with the rest characteristic features of the area, but also their interrelation. A fragment, for example, of a small hydroelectric plant will not be located in a place with short of water. For economical reasons, and for reasons of balance which come out from the rational correlation of the specific area´s elements, the fragment will be located into an area with running waters and torrential rivers, a surrounding environment which will be elevated through the existence of the river and will attribute importance to the area. Here, though, the researcher has to pay attention, because the system´s dynamism must be unified and complete, the powers shaped must be inter-influenced and not dominant to each other. If, for example, we need to cut down an entire forest, in order to create a balance in the Ecosystem, then we reach a situation of an «hierarchical practice of control» (1) of each element on the other.

Last but not least, the Study has to remember the fact that "areas are the result of the co-existence of different contrasts» (2), where "everything is different and everything expresses its particularity" (1). A small hydroelectric plant, for example, may be in a perfect contrast with the surrounding nature. Although this is about the contrast of two different characters (of the natural and of the humanly built, meaning of the nature and of the industrialized facility), they can end up being in a single Unit through the unification of their differences (4). The transformation of the area, is also realized through the process of familiarizing someone with this specific area, in a practical level (energy feeding), in an emotional level (the sentiment of the energy security) and in mental level (interpretation of the way with which the hydroelectric plant produces energy). Thus, the indifferent and natural fragment is transformed into a cozy and beneficial place. The energy facilities offer to the human not only the felling of energy security, but also the feeling that he controls the area, he has rights in it and most of all he has the right to transform it in order to ensure the cohesion between the present and the future through a stable atmosphere, which will become the reference point of what we call Physiognomy. Due to this cohesion, beneficial is related to the necessary and beautiful nature obtain a meaning of survival.


Nowadays, more than ever before, we feel the social responsibility to improve the quality of our lives through the preservation of the cultural heritage of our nation. Towards this direction, the development and optimal use of the Renewable energy and Co-generation plants remains one of the greatest challenge in the energy field.

The European Union, must be interested in the aesthetic parameter of the environment´s physiognomy in order not only to introduce a global European environmental policy, but also to make all European citizens adopt the idea that RES and CHP plants could be installed in their area in a way that elevates its specific cultural and historic features.

Despite the fact that in Greece, the priority of the environment´s protection has led - by the middle 1990´s to the adoption of important actions and policies concerning the promotion of RES and CHP (5), the subject of the appropriate harmonic integration of their plants into the surrounding area has not yet been covered extensively, and that is due mainly to two basic factors:

Firstly, by the absence in the Greek legislation of stipulations for the environmental protection during the energy plants´ installation, and secondly, by the fact that financing and research from national and European energy authorities, aims mainly at the technological improvement of RES, without involving the issue of the research on the aesthetic integrading of these equipment into the area.

This is the current research that the Laboratory of Urban Design is carrying out in the topic of the interface between the installation of the renewable energy facilities and the physiognomy of given regions. What this research will try to set into practice, is the implementation of a new policy which will enable the installation of renewable energy facilities with greater respect for the historical elements of the regions, turning this kind of facilities part of the total physiognomy of a region. Therefore, we hope to create the base for a greater responsibility towards future sustainability.


  1. «The Urban physiognomy of Greece», National Technical University of Athens & Ministry of Public Works, Prof. Joseph Stefanou
  2. European Commission, «White Papers of the European Commission - The Energy Policy for European Union», page 27, Brussels, January 1996 (COM(95) 682 Final)
  3. Building the City of tomorrow - The energy dimension - Conference May 29 - 30, 1998
    Expo ´98 - Lisbon (Portugal)
  4. «The physiognomy of an area - the greek urban character in the 21st century», Laboratory of Urban Design of NTUA, Prof. Joseph Stefanou
  5. «Long Term Greek Planning for Energy for the period 2001 - 2010»
    Regulatory Authority for Energy - Athens, January 2003, page 8


Copyright © 2004, ECO Services International