Blankness: The Architectural Void of North Sea Energy Logistics

  • Nancy Couling TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment
  • Carola Hein TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment


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.


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Author Biographies

Nancy Couling, TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment

Nancy Couling completed her PhD in architecture “The Role of Ocean Space in Contemporary Urbanization” at the EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédéral de Lausanne), Switzerland in 2015, after much international practice experience and gaining her B. Arch (hons) at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Based in Berlin from 1995-2010, she founded her own urban design practice cet-0 / cet-01 with partners Susanne Schnorbusch Architect and Klaus Overmeyer Landscape Architect and was a teaching assistant in Architecture and Urban Design for Prof. Klaus Zillich at the Technische Universität Berlin.

She recently joined the Chair of History of Architecture & Urban Planning, TU Delft, Prof. Carola Hein, as a Marie Curie Research Fellow with the project OCEANURB- the Unseen Spaces of Extended Organization in the North Sea, 2017-2019, investigating the sea-borne spatial implications of extended urbanization (Brenner & Schmid).

 “Barents Lessons, Teaching & Research in Architecture” (Gugger, Couling & Blanchard 2012) was awarded a “most beautiful Book” award both in the Swiss Federal Design Awards 2012 and from the German Stiftung Buchkunst in the category teaching & research 2013.

Carola Hein, TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment

Carola Hein is Professor and Head, History of Architecture and Urban Planning Chair at Delft University of Technology. She has published widely in the field of architectural, urban and planning history and has tied historical analysis to contemporary development. Among other major grants, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship to pursue research on The Global Architecture of Oil and an Alexander von Humboldt fellowship to investigate large-scale urban transformation in Hamburg in international context between 1842 and 2008. Her current research interests include the transmission of architectural and urban ideas, focusing specifically on port cities and the global architecture of oil. She has curated Oildam: Rotterdam in the oil era 1862-2016 at Museum Rotterdam. She serves as IPHS Editor for Planning Perspectives and as Asia book review editor for Journal of Urban History.
Her books include: The Routledge Planning History Handbook (2017), Uzō Nishiyama, Reflections on Urban, Regional and National Space (2017), History, Urbanism, Resilience, Proceedings of the 2016 IPHS conference (2016), Port Cities: Dynamic Landscapes and Global Networks (2011), Brussels: Perspectives on a European Capital (2007), European Brussels. Whose capital? Whose city? (2006), The Capital of Europe. Architecture and Urban Planning for the European Union (2004), Rebuilding Urban Japan after 1945 (2003), and Cities, Autonomy and Decentralisation in Japan. (2006), Hauptstadt Berlin 1957-58 (1991). She has also published numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals, books, and magazines.

How to Cite
COULING, Nancy; HEIN, Carola. Blankness. FOOTPRINT, [S.l.], p. 87-104, nov. 2018. ISSN 1875-1490. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 21 apr. 2019. doi: