Capri’s new electric substation serves as a nature-integrated landmark for the Italian resort island

Some Real Capri Sun

Capri’s new electric substation serves as a nature-integrated landmark for the Italian resort island

As the mind drifts elsewhere this very critical and very busy day, it wouldn’t hurt to take a quick breather and soothe the nerves with a few photos of Capri’s dramatic, sun-dappled coastline, and the new landmark power station servicing the exceptionally picturesque Italian island. Nestled into a lush hillside perch overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, the new facility—technically, a substation linked to an undersea cable that connects the island, for the first time, to the national electric grid— will distribute power generated (potentially) from clean and renewable sources to all of Capri while rendering the island’s highly polluting primary electricity source, a diesel-burning power plant, moot.

A leading proponent of Italy’s “slow architecture” movement, Genoa-based studio Frigerio Design Group (FDG) was named the winner of a 2015 design competition hosted by Italian electric utility giant Terna Group for a statement-making substation above a mainland-linking submarine power cable that extends nearly 12 miles beneath the Gulf of Naples from the Sorrento Peninsula to Capri. The new undersea cable and its substation were brought online on October 14 of this year. Terna Group CEO Stefano Donnarumma referred to the opening as one that will “reduce polluting emissions and increase the safety of the electricity system on the Isle of Capri, a globally recognised symbol of natural beauty.”

In a press statement, FDG described the architecture of the Terna Group-operated power station as being “industrial and designed to integrate into the context, to represent a sign of a harmonious relationship between urban fabric and nature: a unique example in the world of innovative design for electrical power grids.”

Spread out across just under 30,000 square feet (the substation building itself is roughly 10,700 square feet), the hillside power hub—“a discreet element, elegantly integrated into a unique natural context”—does certainly blend into its stunning natural surroundings within Capri’s Gasto Ecological Zone. At first glimpse, the substation complex resembles a sprawling modernist Mediterranean villa where privacy and sweeping views are the utmost concern or, perhaps more accurately, a vegetation-shrouded super–villain’s lair of James Bond-ian proportions camouflaged within the craggy limestone cliffs of Capri.

Italian power plant overlooking a seaside marina on Capri
Capri’s new electric substation is perched high above the island’s main port. (Enrico Cano/Courtesy Frigerio Design Group)

Elaborated the firm:

“The building represents a dialogue with the context by standing as a sign of the renewed relationship between what is built and the surrounding environment, far from the perennial conflict between the two. Materials, geometries and details preserve the same richness and vibration of light the natural scenario offers. The orography of the land determines the layout of the power station: the limestone crags going up from the Marina Grande become retaining walls or buildings, while the vegetation softens the visual impact, by occupying empty spaces in a spontaneous manner.”

Relying heavily on prefabricated construction to reduce the time spent building on-site, the structure itself is comprised of reinforced concrete panels with abstract trapezoidal voids punctuating the facade, an approach that “gives birth to dynamic perceptual effects helping to mitigate the visual impact of the architecture and to create a relationship with the special nature of the place, making the architecture act as a pivot connecting the diffused urban fabric and nature.” The same distinctive design carries over to the burnished brass elements that comprise the gates, fencing, screens, and railings.

A perforated gate looking out over capri
Detail of a gate at the Capri electric substation. (Enrico Cano/Courtesy Frigerio Design Group)

Described as the “second natural matrix” that influenced the design of the substation, the greenery that envelopes that compound “creeps through the volumes by occupying empty spaces, spreading out spontaneously just as it does in the areas surrounding the lot and in the limestone walls of the island,” elaborated FDG. “The vegetation is typical and local with evergreen shrubs and plants to guarantee the constant mitigating effect throughout the year and to minimise maintenance.”

Shuttering Capri’s diesel power plant and linking the island to the national power grid via FDG’s singular new power station will yield an estimated savings of roughly $23 million annually for the sustainability-embracing island, while ushering in an annual reduction in carbon emissions of 130,000 metric tons.

“The new power line, entirely underwater and underground, will deliver higher quality, reliability, and efficiency to the local electrical service,” said the firm in a press statement. “The decommissioning of the diesel plant which was on the island and the possibility of providing electricity from renewable sources—coming from the mainland—will bring considerable benefits from an environmental point of view.”