Blankness: The Architectural Void of North Sea Energy Logistics

Author(s): Nancy Couling and Carola Hein
Publication date: Auntum/Winter 2018
Title: Blankness: The Architectural Void of North Sea Energy Logistics


Energy logistics is the management and implementation of energy flows and their physical artefacts. This sector has perpetuated and profited from a spatial and conceptual void produced by national and corporate strategies in order to optimise logistical flows and to avoid larger societal debate. Offshore developments, in particular, take place far from the public eye and imagination though they form a core layer of the global petroleumscape. This article explores the history and development of the industrialised void of the North Sea and how energy logistics, strongly determined by the oil and gas industries, shields its presence while at the same time shaping and structuring the built environment at sea and across dedicated land-sea thresholds. Throughout this process, it persistently avoids the emergence of architectural form. We propose that the concept of blankness, first formulated by Roberto Mangabiera Unger and further discussed by Jeffrey Kipnis, is a useful framework for interrogating the architecture of energy logistics, its apparent invisibility, and global impact. For both Unger and Kipnis, blankness signified a potential liberation from established norms, opening the way for new forms of democratic life and architectural expression. Such an interpretation of blankness could enable design professionals and the general public to reclaim architectural expression for the spaces left without meaning by logistics. In conclusion we argue for urgent architectural intervention beyond pure logistics and towards an integrated vision for the common space of the sea.