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Renewables Can Be Beautiful: Land Art Design Prized at WFES

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Wandering over the huge Masdar stand at the World Future Energy Summit (WFES) in Abu Dhabi, a very interesting picture exhibition caught my eye. It showed dozens of futuristic design studies of renewable energy plants, most of them more art than technology or architecture. Wanting to know more about the background of these amazing renderings, I found Robert Ferry. He and his wife Elisabeth Monoian (in the right part of the photo) are the heads behind the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI). In January 2010 their initiative put out an international call to artists, architects, scientists and engineers to come up with both aesthetic and pragmatic solutions for the 21st century energy crisis. As “playgrounds” for the competition, three real sites in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were selected. The call for the competition was to design an installation that “captures energy from nature, converts it into electricity and has the ability to store, and/or transform and transmit electrical power to a power grid connection point to be supplied by others”. The USA licensed and UAE based architect Ferry was overwhelmed by the feedback: Within a few month he received more than 200 entries from 40 countries: “We were thrilled by the number and the quality of the ideas that were put forward. It could not have been a greater success.”

But why do we need beautiful renewable power plants? Robert Ferry explains: “We live in a world that puts a high emphasis on design. As energy generation necessarily comes in closer proximity with the real estate that it powers, issues of aesthetics that drive acceptance are becoming more and more debated. We have, on the one hand, an ever increasing drive toward buildings and cities that are being designed to run on 100% renewable energy. On the other hand, we have technologies proliferating that are still rather utilitarian in their form such as the standard horizontal axis, three blade wind turbine. And these utilitarian forms are seeing an increasing pushback from individual communities, especially as they come closer and closer to the city.”

Being a designer of “positive-impact buildings” himself, Ferry is sure that what is needed in order to bridge the gap between the desire for a renewable future and negative reactions to the application of the systems required for it, is “an artistic movement that can set a course towards aesthetic considerations in sustainable infrastructure”.

A jury panel consisting of 20 international artists, architects, academicians, industry leaders and writers have reviewed the entries and the winning design has been determined.

Today, the winning team was announced and awarded the prize at the WFES. Robert Flottemesch, Jen DeNike, Johanna Ballhaus & Adrian P. De Luca (three of them in the left part of the photo) designed the Lunar Cubit. The artistic power plant consist of eight pyramids encircling one central pyramid. All nine are proportional to the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Giza. But unlike these they are not made from stone – they are made of amorphous silicon and glass. The frameless solar panels form a 1,74 MW power plant that could power 250 households. The Lunar Cubit is a monthly calendar, too. At night it illuminates in an inversely proportional relationship to the lunar cycle so that the work becomes most fully lit during the night of a new moon. This could be quite sublime: On the night of a full moon, only moonlight will trace a crown of silvery shadows across the desert floor until the following evening when the pyramids begin to glow and the moon begins to fade.

The prize for the winning design was sponsored by Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s multi-faceted initiative advancing renewable technologies and sustainable solutions.

And how does it go on? “Now as we know the winner, we are seeking partnership for the construction,” Robert Ferry said. He is very optimistic that the idea will become reality. “Once complete, the designed power plant will be the first of its kind and will become a tourist destination that draws people from around the world to experience the beauty of the collaborative art creation. Over time, the work of public art will pay back both its carbon construction footprint and its installation costs. This makes this kind of project the perfect investment in our future.“ And looking at all the will and the financial power in the UAE to create things at a grandiose scale I tend to believe him.

The prize of today is not the end of the competition’s idea: LAGI is planning to establish a biennial schedule for further repetitions in cities around the world. At the moment the initiative is already preparing the 2012 New York City competition.

Helmuth Ziegler's picture

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