Landscapes of post-war infrastructure: Coal power and the Yorkshire Coalfield

Members of the Landscape of Post-War Infrastructure project have curated an exhibition that is on display at the National Coal Mining Museum. Richard Brook reflects on the exhibition and what it can tell us about the symbolic and iconic qualities of power stations in the landscape.

As part of the Landscapes of Post-War Infrastructure project, we have examined the environmental conditions of the wider landscape of coal power and the Yorkshire Coalfield as it has transitioned through two phases of closure – the closure of the mines and now the decommissioning of the power stations.

We have also looked at the landscape architecture of the post-war period to understand the massive changes to the profession and the huge scalar shift as landscape architects were appointed to design entire visual fields, not just through processes of visual mitigation, but by the integration of massive forms into landscape compositions and what lessons this might have for future infrastructural landscapes.

The symbolic and iconic qualities of power stations in the landscape, their meaning and their value to heritage organisations, artists and the public has driven the content of our network meetings and it is this that we invite exhibition viewers to consider as they engage with models and drawings produced together with our master’s students from the Manchester School of Architecture.

The National Coal Mining Museum has supported our research in the loan of material from their archives to Manchester Metropolitan University’s Special Collections in between various phases of lockdown – including a mad dash across the Pennines in advance of the second lockdown in November 2020. This museum-to-museum loan enabled us and our students access to artefacts that would otherwise have been impossible to work with.

The exhibition presents a historic timeline of the Yorkshire Coalfield, a summary of its geography and networks and a series of case studies of the architecture, landscape and environmental qualities of Kellingley Colliery, Gascoigne Wood Mine, Drax, Eggborough and Ferrybridge power stations and the ash mound of Gale Common. Together, these show the interrelation of huge industrial processes in extraction, power production and waste management and their combined impact on a landscape, its cultures and societies.

A series of models focus on particular themes that we have used to consider the changing landscape – the visual relationships between the infrastructure of motorways and power stations; the international, national, and regional networks involved in power production; the planning and reality of processes of landscape formation over extended periods of time; and the work of landscape architects to integrate recreational functions with infrastructure. 

Alongside the models and drawings, a short powerful film captures the spirit of the birth, life and death of these sites and asks about the landscape futures as an industry fades with little attention to its heritage.

The exhibition will run until 2 October at the National Coal Mining Museum.


Richard Brook is a Professor of Architecture and Urbanism at the Manchester School of Architecture.