Powered by Art? TEDx Pittsburgh talk
Pittsburgh: Powered by Art?
Imagine yourself walking through a large public park along the river. In the distance, an object appears to rise organically from the landscape. Its armatures and folds relate to the composition of the setting. Looking closer, the large object makes you think of the beauty that exists in nature and at the same time about human invention and ingenuity. It reminds you of a pattern that you saw once on the surface of a sea shell, or of the way that a grape vine branches.
Upon arriving closer, you are surprised to learn that the beautiful object that has so captured your attention is also a power plant harnessing the natural energies of the wind, sun, and water in the creation of real, carbon-free, renewable energy that is at that very moment providing electrical power to thousands of nearby homes. You stay for quite a while listening to the energy conservation discussion that is going on there that day, stealing glances toward the energy generating artwork as it moves to follow the sun.
Public art serves many purposes. It teaches, inspires, it adds pleasure and interest to our days. It generates tourism and increased economic development. Can public art do these things and more? What if we were to think about infrastructure as public art? And what if emerging renewable energy technologies were used as a medium for art?
As we set out from Pittsburgh in 2008 to live for a few years in Dubai, we were thinking about these questions. We began our time in the city of endless sunshine thinking about how buildings could double as clean energy power plants and by conceiving of some design examples that could leverage the power of the sun to its greatest potential for the built environment. Inspired by our love for land art, we wondered how large-scale works of art could be used as micro power plants for cities.
We immediately brainstormed an international design competition to solicit ideas on the subject, while also coming up with a few ideas of our own utility-scale energy generating artworks. We then formally established the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) identity and launched the first competition on January 15, 2010 at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi.
The design brief for the first LAGI competition was fairly straightforward. The artwork was to capture energy from nature, cleanly convert it into electricity, and transform and transmit the electrical power to a grid connection point to be supplied by the city. Consideration should be made for the safety of the viewing public and for the educational activities that may occur on site. We asked that the design be constructible and that it respect that natural ecosystem of the design sites. And, very importantly, we encouraged interdisciplinary collaborations between artists, architects, landscape architects, engineers, and scientists. Teams had the choice between three very large urban sites: one in Dubai and two in Abu Dhabi.
In response to the proposition that “renewable energy can be beautiful”, the results of the 2010 competition have resoundingly proven that this is true. We had over 400 participants representing 40 countries. The ideas that came in clearly show how interdisciplinary teams can come together to create innovative and pragmatic solutions.
The aesthetic questions that we’re asking with the LAGI project could not be timelier. Every day there seems to be a new story about people disapproving of solar or wind installations in their communities. It's not that they don't care about the environment; in many cases the people opposing the installations are self-avowed environmentalists. To some people, the addition of turbines to the skyline is a form of visual pollution.
Public art has the power to provide new tools for cities with which to integrate renewable energy systems into the built environment while addressing such public concerns.
Land art generators are works of art that will pay back both their carbon footprint and their installation cost through their utility. But it is equally important to consider that these artworks pay back in more than just megawatt-hours. They serve as inspirational objects of city beautification. They provide a place for educational programming about renewable energy and ecology. And they will generate increased economic development and revenue for the cities in which they are constructed—just as is the case with all successful public art.
From another perspective, by offering emerging renewable technologies the chance to be incorporated into the medium for public artworks, the LAGI project has the potential to provide an additional track for product development and market viability in ways that may benefit the clean-tech industry as a whole.
We’ve just launched the second edition of the LAGI design competition—this time for New York City. In partnership with NYC Department of Parks & Recreation and other local institutions, we’re holding this latest ideas competition for a site within Freshkills Park (the former Fresh Kills Landfill), which, once the reclamation is completed, will be almost three times the size of Central Park. There is $20,000 in prize award money for this year’s competition.
Submissions will be due on July 1st, with a decision and award ceremony in October. Jurors include representatives from the U.S. Department of Energy, top international architecture firms, local stakeholders in New York City, and leading figures in the art world such as Eric Shiner, the Director of the Andy Warhol Museum.
What is wonderful about the site-specific nature of the project is that the responses to the shifting parameters will yield incredibly diverse results as the project continues to be held in different cities around the world. We hope to have the opportunity to host a future LAGI competition for Pittsburgh.
To find information on the winning entries from the 2010 LAGI competition and for information on how to register your design team for 2012, please visit www.landartgenerator.org and www.landartgenerator.org/designcomp/. The Land Art Generator Initiative is a project of Society for Cultural Exchange, a Pittsburgh based 501(c)(3) non-profit organiz
TEDx Pittsburgh, sponsored by Leadership Pittsburgh, was held in November with the theme of Power. Look for more TEDx talks to be featured soon in Pop City.