They might build giants

High-Voltage Beauty
By S.I. ROSENBAUM  |  August 23, 2010

1008_pylon_main
THE BODY ELECTRIC: Local architects (and married couple) Jin Choi and Thomas Shine wanted their design to inject beauty into the utilitarian.

When Jin Choi sees electric pylons, she sees something massive and alive.

She and her husband, Thomas Shine, run an architecture firm out of their three-story townhouse in Brookline. Mostly, they do small interior-design projects. But in 2008 they entered an Icelandic contest to redesign high-voltage towers.

Choi thought of giants.

She and Shine perfected their design: human figures, 150 feet tall, arms raised to hold power lines. They'd be like the heads on Easter Island, mysterious and monumental.

They didn't win the contest.

So last spring, the couple submitted the design to the Boston Society of Architects' Unbuilt Architecture competition. This time, they won. The design went up on the Web. And things started to happen.

"I can't believe how much of a stir it's causing," says Choi.

Their Web site is getting thousands of hits. Their design has been posted on countless design blogs. A newspaper in Norway even proposed it as a solution to a local NIMBY battle over electric power pylons along a pristine fjord. "Hvem sier strømmaster må være stygge?" the headline read. Who says pylons have to be ugly?

For Choi and Shine, that's the point: there's no reason utilitarian structures can't be beautiful.

"It's fear," says Shine. "No one wants to take a chance . . . I think you have to challenge [that mindset] with things that are more beautiful and more appealing. You have to tempt people out of their comfort zone."

Whether or not the project ever is built, Choi said she hopes the idea behind it will linger.

"Once you see the images," she says, "you can't look at a pylon without thinking of these structures as somewhat human."

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