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Powerful art in power station

 After 60 years of producing hydro-energy in Birsfelden, a proper celebration requires some background information.

By Shirley L. Kearney, Photo: Mark Niedermann

In the early to mid-1900s, unstable economic situations in Switzerland and the surrounding area hindered the efforts to supply the requisite electrical demands.  During the Second World War the demands increased; in 1942 a concrete plan fell into stable hands. However it was not until 1950, that the project put forth by Hans Hofmann was accepted. On 29 August 1950, the power plant with four turbines was born and became operational in 1954.  image006Today the power station in Birsfelden produces 17% of the total energy needs of the greater Basel region. It is the largest of 12 hydropower plants between the Bodensee (Lake Konstanz) and the Basel border, and the largest in Switzerland. The four turbines annually produce an average of 565 gigawatt hours of energy. There are no environmental risks and it is all renewable energy.

The fact that the energy plant could not be built until a lock installation for the water traffic between Basel and Augst was constructed explains, to a certain degree, the delay. The number of ships passing through the locks varies daily, depending on traffic, the weather and the level of the Rhine. The highest number is 49, each within a time frame of 20 minutes. The maximum amount of water required to fill one of the two locks is 32’900 m3.  Passage is toll free.

The mechanics of the locks is a continual fascination for the numerous pedestrians and bicyclists passing by; for some it is even a planned destination. This can also be enjoyed at home (not the same) via www.youtube.com.image009

Architect Hans Hofmann’s philosophy was to avoid designing a heavy, enclosed structure that would hide the turbines, but rather to introduce a glass edifice offering an open view, blending with Nature’s landscape and producing a serene and cheerful atmosphere. This he accomplished.

Guided tours (ca. 1.5 hours) can be arranged in English, French or German; the film is in English and German. There is no charge.

Located along the area are 11 thematic panels.

In celebration of its 60th birthday, a kinetic sound and light installation “Wirbelstrom” / Vortex adds to its serenity and quiet force.  The whirling mass of water flowing through and driving the turbines rotates four white gauze banners which are extended over each of the turbines creating a slow-motion dance. The sound produced is amplified so one hears and feels the action.

image011The installation is in situ until October.

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