New Aesthetic Energy Infrastructure and the Land Art Generator Initiative
The Land Art Generator Initiative addresses public art within the urban fabric of the sustainable city. The goal of LAGI is to design and construct a series of large-scale site-specific installations that combine art with utility-scale clean energy generation. The artworks utilize the latest in renewable energy science and innovate the application of new technologies. www.landartgenerator.org
Imagine yourself walking in a large park at the edge of the city. 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 complexity of patterns that exist in the natural world while at the same time it inspires an awe of human invention and ingenuity. The geometries of the sculptural elements seem to respond to the sun and the wind.
When you reach the observation platform the vision comes into perfect form, like a painting in a frame. As you watch the way that it reacts to the forces of nature, you think about the interconnectedness of human activity with the earth and the delicacy of our shared ecosystem.
You are surprised to learn that the beautiful object that has so captured your attention is also a power plant harnessing the energy of nature in the creation of carbon-free megawatt-hours that are at that very moment providing electricity to thousands of nearby homes. You stay for a while listening to the energy conservation discussion that is going on there that day, stealing glances toward the artwork as it moves to follow the sun.
Is it possible that in the future, all human endeavors could be fuelled by clean renewable energy? And that the systems which generate the energy could be designed to be beautifully and seamlessly integrated into the fabric of our biotic and cultural ecosystems?
While contemplation on the condition of our planet can be dispiriting, it is important to remember that remedies exist. At our most optimistic we can even see ourselves in the midst of a new revolution—one that puts sustainable resource management above planned-obsolescence consumerism.
To get there, we’re going to have to convince a great number of people to embrace the ideas associated with the change, clearly understand the need for it, and see its inevitability. This takes a heightened awareness of the cultural drivers of change. The investment in time and economic resources that change requires should be justified in the great return in cultural and economic wealth that the change brings with it.
We've placed our focus on one part of the equation—that of energy generation—because it is critical to accomplishing a harmonious transition and because democratized access to clean energy has the potential to dramatically increase the standard of living of everyone.
When most people think about renewable energy a few things come to mind. We might picture dark blue solar panel arrays or large wind turbines in the ocean and lining mountain ridges. The form of these objects is derived almost entirely from the engineering processes that have made them function more efficiently through each generation of technological advancement. Consideration of efficiency and cost per kilowatt capacity has driven the appearance of renewable energy technologies for two reasons. First, the cost of energy is relatively low in a global market that subsidizes non-renewable fossil fuels and writes off externalities,  and renewable alternatives must strive to compete on those terms. And second, large-scale energy generation facilities (i.e. coal-fired power plants) have historically been located far enough away from the city that aesthetics were not of utmost importance.
Functional and mechanical considerations should always remain an important priority of good technology design, and it is imperative that we implement strategies that will ensure universal access to affordable energy. At the same time, we may be wise to question the ability of advances in renewable energy technologies to reach their greatest potential if their physical forms continue to exist entirely outside of aesthetic and cultural considerations. This question is reinforced by the fact that the process of harnessing renewable resources such as the sun and the wind often requires that energy generation facilities be located in more visible locations.
The science of renewable energy may soon find the way to cost parity with conventional fuel resources, and by some measures, they already have. But the popular adoption of new sustainable technologies will require that they have the ability to appeal to people on an emotional level. It will require a popular appreciation of the value inherent within a shift in energy resources and not just of the dangers inherent in not shifting.
Meanwhile, the dangers are quite real. With climate, environmental, and health effects of extraction and combustion on the one hand, and the finite nature of fossil fuels and uranium on the other hand, it is imperative that the next few decades see a rapid transition to renewable alternatives. One of the leading obstacles to greater adoption is the indifference or lack of understanding of policy makers, stakeholders, and community leaders. We therefore should look to all means with which to educate and influence popular opinion.
Every advancement in technology comes with its own complex set of risks and potential consequences and should be well considered ecologically before being applied universally.  The incredible bounty of the Earth, if managed sustainably and in harmony with nature’s balance, can lead to a heroic triumph over poverty, starvation, and suffering.
Instead, our ability to tamper with the balance of nature and to squander the precious resources available to us has been a tragedy of epic proportions. A short-list of the damage done includes all of the polluting effects of mining and extraction industries, the “resource curse” stifling freedom and progress in post-colonial nations, effects of airborne and waterborne toxins on human health, habitat destruction and species extinctions, wars waged over resources, increased risks to coastal populations, loss of freshwater resources, agricultural instability, increased desertification and deforestation, ocean acidification, and global economic instability.
This list of 20th century tragedies is in great part due to the historically brief anomaly of easy access to conventional crude oil (~1860-2060). But it also has to do with the corresponding cultural memes that proliferated with and as a consequence of the technological and scientific expansion that was fueled by oil economies.
All along the way art has had a pivotal role to play although it may be often overlooked. In 1909, the Futurist manifesto,  along with other contemporaneous movements, gave added momentum to the sentiment of the triumph of man over nature. Europe was gripped by a collective progress-euphoria, as it reveled in the excesses of its scientific and industrial triumphs. It was that same year that humans reached the North Pole, and six years previously the first successful flight had heralded victory over the sky. The world had been mapped and catalogued and ideas about time and space were being challenged. This euphoria of progress is an addiction from which 100 years later we are still recovering. The Futurist manifesto itself was a seduction to the thrilling and fleeting ecstasies that come from narcissistic cultural self-evaluation, environmental destruction, squandering of resources and the waging of war. Above all, its lesson is the ability of art to contribute to change in the world.
While declaring the greatness of speed and progress, Futurism also equally declared the greatness of humanity. But what it did not bring into the fold of its political message was a concern for the well-being of the planet or notions of “humanity” as being defined by a sense of empathy or compassion.
The intellectual profundity of the idea of “Greatness-In-Newness” that was born of those first decades of the 20th century played a critical role in art and design theory that was to follow. On the positive side of the bargain, this grand movement that has seen various iterations and reinterpretations over the last century has consistently questioned the nature of art. The application of its higher ideals has given us the ability to invent spectacular otherworldly creations by fusing together disparate existences into wonderful or shocking manifestations.
On the negative side of the bargain, artistic glorification of mankind’s triumph over nature has arguably contributed, if not to the neglect of our obligation to nature, at least to a distraction from it. In the meantime, we have arrived in the 21st century at a somewhat desperate place in which an updated vision of our future may have no place for human life at all on a planet that has been heated up by our combustion and raked clean by our endless mining for metals and fuels in our insatiable and un-moderated quest for speed and convenience.
A countermeasure of serious import to the Futurist ideas of “Progress for the Sake of Progress” and the “Greatness In Newness” has been the dawning awareness, since the middle of the 20th century,  of the serious situation that our addiction to unabashed industry and the fast life of unbridled consumption has placed us—and the planet. Artists have been pivotal in expanding this awareness to the critical mass required for action.
This use of art to expose truths and influence solutions continues with the expanding reach of eco-art, environmental art, and art as social practice. Artists are using the tools at their disposal to educate the viewers, readers, and users of their work about the ethical considerations that are so relevant to popular human behaviors. Art and design have been able to enlighten people about a broad range of social and environmental issues and to instill awareness about the products we buy, the foods we eat, and the energy we consume.
In no small part this is being done through art that employs technology, for example visualizations of climate data or air pollution.  Technology is being glorified and used in art with a new purpose and with awareness of the potential harming effects of human behavior on the delicate balance of the natural biosphere.
Meanwhile, the growth of social practice art presents a path to overcome the limitations of didacticism. It is good to teach, but the best methods of teaching have always been demonstrative. How can art ‘do’ as well as ‘be’? With the application of social practice to infrastructure art, the ‘do’ing certainly implies a partnership with technology.
Renewable energy technologies have the ability to rise to the occasion that is provided by these two conditions of the contemporary art world: social practice and technological integration.
The Land Art Generator Initiative is creating a dedicated platform for public art as sustainable energy infrastructure.  The project offers the opportunity for collaborative teams of artists, architects, landscape architects and designers, working with engineers and scientists, to create new ways of thinking about what renewable energy generation looks like and how it relates to the overall fabric of our constructed and natural environments. It calls on interdisciplinary teams to conceive of large scale site specific artworks that provide renewable electricity to the city at a utility scale (equivalent to the demand of hundreds of homes)—offsetting thousands of tons of CO2 and providing an iconic amenity for the city.
The outcome of the 2010 design competition exemplifies how interdisciplinary teams can come together to create truly innovative and pragmatic solutions. Hundreds of submissions came in from over 40 countries around the world from design teams that included many top international artists and design firms.
The Land Art Generator Initiative has partnered with NYC Department of Parks & Recreation for 2012 to hold an international design competition for large-scale works of site-specific public art for Freshkills Park (the former Fresh Kills landfill) in New York City, which, once reclamation is completed, will be a cultural amenity almost three times the size of Central Park.
Jurors include: Dr. Henry Kelly, Acting Assistant Secretary and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy; Bjarke Ingels, Founding Partner of BIG | Bjarke Ingels Group; Patricia Watts & Amy Lipton, Directors of Ecoartspace; the Public Design Commission of the City of New York.
Following are two examples from the 2010 Land Art Generator Initiative design competition that illustrate the potential for innovation that lies in interdisciplinary collaboration.
The Windstalk team, led by Atelier dna in New York City,  arrived at a solution to harvesting the power of the wind that had never before been considered. They were inspired by their observation of nature, specifically the way a field of wheat or tall grass blades wave in the wind. Rather than relying on a rotor with blades attached, they conceived of a set of stalks that would move under the power of even the slightest breeze coming from any direction.
By placing piezoelectric generators along the stalk and a torque generator at the base, the Windstalk design has the potential to generate more electrical output per square meter of land area than a conventional horizontal-axis wind turbine (HAWT) array. The reason is that HAWTs must be placed far enough apart so that the wind disturbances and vortexes that each turbine creates in its wake do not affect the efficiency of the other turbines. Windstalks can be placed in close proximity to one another.
An innovative solution for solar power came from the PV Dust project from an interdisciplinary team in London.  By utilizing a new solar product called Sphelar(TM) by the Kyosemi Corporation, the team conceived of a three-dimensional array of spherical solar receptors that increases the incident surface area of the installation.
The result is that the design requires 57% of the land area per KW capacity output when compared to an array of flat photovoltaic panels, while maintaining use of the ground for other purposes such as farming or recreation.
These designs go beyond their conceptual and aesthetic innovation to include engineering innovation. But even short of that, the application of existing technologies in new and artistic ways creates cultural innovations, which can be equally powerful as drivers of change.
Because the renewable forms of energy generation such as solar and wind do not pollute in their daily operations, they are more likely to find their way into proximity with residential and commercial neighborhoods. As this has already started happening, there has been some push back from local communities in terms of aesthetics, for example with neighborhoods rejecting wind turbines that they can see from their backyards (the so-called NIMBY effect). 
For while such installations do not billow smoke, the argument can be made that visual pollution is no less an impediment to the proliferation of clean energy insomuch as detractors can point to “not in my backyard” examples of installations that have negative impacts on real estate values and community cohesion.
Cultural innovations via infrastructure art can provide new tools for city planners with which to integrate renewable energy systems into the built environment while addressing such public concerns. And they can provide investors with new opportunities to capitalize on projects that provide multiple revenue generating engines (a power plant that also generates money from tourism for example, or that is partially financed as a cooperative by the community.
We can envision a day when renewable energy generating artworks will add cultural and economic value to public spaces around the world, while giving us cause to feel good about our creative stewardship of the environment.
- Externalities include costs of environmental pollution, loss of habitat and species, increased human health risks, and the geopolitical costs of establishing security of access.
- Murray Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy (Montreal, QC: Black Rose Books, 2001).
- F. T. Marinetti, “The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism,” Le Figaro, February 20, 1909
- Jacques Ellul, La Technique ou l'Enjeu du Siècle (Paris: Armand Colin, 1954); Murray Bookchin, Our Synthetic Environment (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962); Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1962).
- Examples include Andrea Polli's “Particle Falling” (San Jose, 2010) and “Hello Weather” (New York City, 2008), Sabrina Raaf's “Grower” (2004–2006), Katherine Moriwaki's “Inside/Outside” (2003), and The Leonardo's “Lovely Weather Project” (2007–ongoing).
- Land Art Generator Initiative's Web Site, http://landartgenerator.org (accessed June 12, 2011).
- Atelier DNA: Dario Nunez Ameni and Thomas Siegl, Windstalk, 2010, New York.
- George L. Legendre, Emanuele Mattutini, Jean-Aime Shu and Alfonso Senatore, PV Dust, 2010, London.
- Patrick Devine-Wright, Renewable Energy and the Public: From NIMBY to Participation (London: Earthscan Ltd., 2010); Roger Cohen, Britain Goes Nimby. The New York Times, August 26, 201.