Ken Charron submits Enerdu design concepts

Editor’s Note: Local resident Ken Charron sent us these very interesting comments and design concepts that describe one possible approach to any future expansion of the Enerdu hydroelectric plant in Almonte.

In response to the request from the Enerdu Design Advisory Committee, I’d like to offer some conceptual material preceded by some basic methodology in design guidance. Creative tasks of unknown possibilities are far easier to approach once the boundaries have been defined. A style of methodology I’ve used for many years — yet to let me down.

Hydroelectric Plant: Such an installation differs from a shopping mall, community centre or apartment complex, as such things are transient on the time scale of function and heritage. This particular project must endure time on a larger scale, as its core function will span decades. Clearly, design, function and aesthetics must buck trend and honour timeless cues. If not, it will quickly appear tired and suffer cultural dysfunction (Frank Clair Stadium, Expo 67.) To help place ourselves in the right frame, we need to imagine ourselves 30 years into the future, then ask the hard question: Are we to pay homage to our past culture with a simulated tribute, or look forward and recognize today & tomorrow? How do we see ourselves? This doesn’t have to be a philosophical exercise, so let’s keep it simple: Less Walmart (form=0%, function=90%) & more human habitation.

Harmony. It’d be truly helpful to see 30 years into the future and see what the river landscape might look like. If we could, concessions towards complementary design and function would be more than ideal. Since we can’t, we must gauge the potential of the river scenery in what outcomes might realistically play out. To gauge this, you would have to consider the current uses and predict the future history of our town based on reasonable probabilities. In a way, we need to visualize how the town could be seen in the future.

Let’s first rule out what Almonte is not. Almonte is not a manufacturing centre, nor is it a logging camp, mining site, oil rig, shipping port, agricultural centre, or a rail yard. It’s unlikely these or other unfamiliar industries are in our future. Almonte cannot be compared to communities such as Barrhaven, as Barrhaven is a new development — and has nothing in terms of heritage. Almonte on the other hand has extensive heritage. Subsequently, two of our prime identifiers are arts and culture. This is evident by the activities and events regularly found in our community calendar. If these activities were not attractive, they would have died off long ago. Given these cultural activities grow each passing year, it stands to reason Almonte’s population grows based on the expectations these activities will continue (people are not moving here for the sailing or rock climbing.) Almonte isn’t a business centre, we have Kanata and Ottawa for that. People work elsewhere, and aspire to live here. Almonte is all about habitation — the place where you spend the spoils of your labour in an exceptionally ideal environment.

Visitors come to Almonte for the culturally friendly atmosphere. People love taking the Riverwalk tour, sitting at the Mow for dinner and taking in the charm Almonte offers. A stroll down Mill street to the waterfront with ice-cream isn’t law (for most at least), but a desired activity, and Almonte has become a destination because of such activities.

The river attracts people, it’s a marvel of nature — an intriguing spectacle. It’s only natural people want to take in such surroundings when they visit. The river is our biggest attraction — and we didn’t have to build it, it came free from nature.

With the Mississippi River as a prime attraction, features such as the Riverwalk are extremely effective as a memorable feature of Almonte. The reasoning that supported the Riverwalk project is a perfect reference point for any project looking to connect people with the river. As noted previously, projects having an aesthetic impact must seek public acceptance, for the public to accept the project, the project must accept the public. This means the public must feel invited. The Riverwalk is inviting, and so people are drawn to it.

The Enerdu project needs to invite the public. It needs to be owned by the river community. It needs to be as much a part of the river ambiance as its underlying function. It cannot be separate, divided or segregated from the river atmosphere. It must allow people to celebrate its contribution to the river aesthetics.

Disclaimer: I’ve not seen any technical material with respect to the size, position or proportions of the proposed installation. However, I see no need to limit the project design potential based on dimensional specifics. I’ll simply point out key features that would allow the installation to welcome the river culture.

Visitors should be able to tour the perimeter of the structure, and explore and learn as they do. A walkway should join with the sidewalk in a way similar to the Riverwalk. People are interested in viewing the river, so seating will be provided. People are interested in the function of the station (we all love to see work being done — appealing to our sense of purpose). For this, we should provide an information display showing the power being generated (amongst other things) in a graphical way not unlike a museum exhibit. People will be able to peer through the glass barrier to see the interesting components inside.

I’d expect the facility to generate serious heat, and so there should be a controlled baffle — allowing heat to exit while keeping the weather out — and operate with fascinating artistic geometry giving visitors a memorable association of its function. A covered section will follow the perimeter wall, keeping visitors dry and out of the sun. A small section nearest the building wall will contain glass, providing light. Under the canopy, visitors can read historical facts about power generation with museum style displays of old Almonte along the wall. Along the railing visitors will see other historical displays showing information about the mills of old Almonte letting people learn about our area. With all this water and walking, let’s make sure there’s a water fountain for the visiting parents and children.

The outer materials should reflect the same found along the river: Stone base, heavy steel support structures and a wooden walk-way made of recycled railways ties.

The future projected:

At the entrance, a map of downtown Almonte showing the building as part of a planned tour (perhaps the start.) The end of the tour could be the fairgrounds. The map will highlight key buildings of our heritage, explaining the historical function and notes of each building as the visitors walk the new extended Riverwalk. The new Riverwalk will have a website for people to visit, and each point along the tour visitors will find a QR code they can scan – providing them a link to the specific section of a webpage with embedded videos rich with historical facts of that particular building. While on the tour, people can click on things such as “lunchtime breaks”, parking, public phones, groceries, ice cream, baked goods, canoe launch and picnic areas.

The architectural theme of the facility will complement other sites along the river — tied in a continuous theme of hanging plants, subtle lighting and natural materials — all inviting visitors to the entirety of Almonte — with all of its parts harmoniously linked to our heritage, culture and community.

Notes: The provided images are not a proposed design specifically, as I’ve not seen any technical parameters of the building requirements. Rather, these rough drawings demonstrate conceptual components in a speculative merger of ideas. I apologize for the crude nature of these illustrations — mostly because I can’t find my favourite pencil and used a pen instead (which faded almost immediately).


The first drawing (above, click to enlarge) is of the river viewing area. The glass barrier with angled railings provide clear view of the water while offering a display area for historical information on Almonte. When you look over the water and see a building, there will be a section of the railing talking about that building. It was intentional not to have support columns for the canopy, as people wanting a photo like an unobstructed view of the scenery. The shaded section of the canopy will have two panels containing solar cells. Why? As an independent power source for the LED lighting over the public area. The LED lighting is dynamic, and changes colour very slowly over time. There is a glass section near the top, providing light during the day. The flooring is made from recycled railway ties. Each can be lifted out and replaced. A flat bench is offered for people to sit. Around the corner, a fountain, and possibly a public restroom. The glass display windows into the building allows visitors to see the interior of the building.


The second drawing  (above, click to enlarge) shows the construction of the canopy: Laser/water-cut steel showing the glass opening where light comes through. A side view (looking south-west) shows the unique shape of the building. The curved roof has many glass panels pulling light into the interior. The second section of roof (facing north) is also an air baffle. This section of the roof moves via passive hydraulic ballasts. When the interior of the building gets hot, water fills ballast slugs that change the roof angle. No motor or power is required. The angle of the roof allow large volumes of air to escape while keeping the weather out (and noise in) at all times. The two drawings along the bottom show the vent mode (as mentioned) and a maintenance mode. The maintenance mode will roll the north roof all the way in. This provides ample access for an external crane to pull a turbine unit up to ground level. This function could also be part of the internal design of the building in conjunction with the ballast slugs: disconnecting the links to the north roof and driving winch instead. The south glass roof is filled with yellow glass. The North glass roof is filled with blue glass. When the north roof is moved into vent mode, green light pours into the building. Illustrations of birds will be embedded in the south roof glass, and images of fish will be embedded in the north roof glass. When the north roof is in vent mode, the two illustrations merge to make a garden of flowering greenery — all visible from the observation deck.


The third drawing (above, click to enlarge) shows the entrance to the observation deck. This structure is mostly wrought iron sculpture with LED lighting above. The cells of the arched entrance will have sculpted coloured glass (cue theme music for Stephen Brathwaite.) Lower in the drawing shows the north face of the building. Hanging plants can be seen around the observation deck. The main service doors to the left of the public entrance open inwards. There is a metal mesh floor just inside which lifts up for a rising turbine to clear. Once the turbine is level with the ground, the turbine can be loaded through the main doors. Each time the north roof moves, visitors can see the 1870s style mechanism turning inside the building without motors or electricity. Just clever mechanical water management.

At night, visitors sitting at the Mow will see into the south glass roof — displaying accent lighting under the support trusses. There will also be accent lighting under the railing of the observation deck and along the inside edge of the top canopy glass. Some visitors may find an interesting “easter egg”… when the lighting shifts colour (slowly) it does so in unison with the new LED lighting at the falls (by the Woolen Mill). Visitors who place their hand over a section of window can change the lighting from red to green or blue.

With the function of the generation station set, a community function can be leveraged. By inviting the public into the world of hydro electric generation, the station will be celebrated by the community of Almonte. It will be recognized as a member of the river culture simply by inviting the community. Having the hydro station interact with the public, it becomes a destination, an attraction, just the like the river it depends upon. In this light, it gives back as much as it takes.

Please note: These conceptual drawings are not to scale or proportionate, and no consideration to detail was given. As a result aesthetics shown here are of the lowest possible representation. Further design refinement would reveal a more visually appealing representation. Please consider according to function only.

Thank you.

Ken Charron