The Strangely Beautiful Hidden World Inside Our Power Plants

These “temples of an energy -guzzling society” sure do photograph well.

For nearly two years, Zurich-based photographer Luca Zanier traveled around Europe exploring what he calls “temples of an energy-guzzling society:” The massive, cathedral-like spaces inside nuclear power plants, dams, and oil rigs.


“I was so fascinated by how they were built, how huge they are, and how strange they are,” Zanier says. “I’d always been interested in energy in a way, and the architecture from the outside is amazing. I wanted to show the inside–the hidden worlds that are essential to our daily lives.”

Shot with a large-format camera after hours of setup to get the perfect lighting, the pictures are deliberately neutral, focusing more on aesthetics than politics. Some are so abstract that it’s hard to even really tell what’s going on, other than the fact that you’re looking at a giant industrial space.

“You can stand in front of some of these pictures and think you’re looking at a gym hall or a factory,” Zanier says. “Only when you look at the caption do you realize something is wrong, and this is a place where there is waste from a nuclear power plant.”

Zanier tried to capture all kinds of energy, including solar and wind, but after three failed visits to a wind farm, gave up on the renewables–they just didn’t photograph well enough. The aesthetics of the other spaces, he says, are what people have responded to.

“After Fukushima, I was surprised that people still wanted to buy pictures of nuclear power plants and hang them in their living rooms,” he says. “But they’re buying them because they like the aesthetics of the picture, not because they like nuclear power.”

Zanier hopes that the photos, published in a book called Power Book: Space and Energy, will be a reminder that even if we’re not thinking about the mechanics of the energy industry every time we flip a switch, it’s a reality of life right now.


“The goal is that people start to think about what’s going on in this world,” he says. “We need this energy–we might not like these places, but without them we don’t have lights, we can’t drive a car or ride in a plane.”

Of course, those sources of power are changing. In a couple of decades, some of these futuristic images will be history–in Switzerland, nuclear power plants will be phased out by 2034.

Luca Zanier is represented by AnzenbergerGallery.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.