Masdar News

Public Art of the Sustainable City

26 Aug 2019
By Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry, Founding Directors, LAGI

When we think of renewable energy infrastructure, we often have in mind dark blue photovoltaic rectangles carpeting the landscape, or large three-blade horizontal axis wind turbines marching along mountain ridges or into the sea. We think about grid reliability and consumer cost per kilowatt-hour, or we think about the climate change apocalypse that we will impose on future generations if we fail to act swiftly enough.

These elements are important from technical and policy perspectives, but there is something missing that will be key to success if we are to meet the goals for decarbonisation that we have set for ourselves. We must recognize the importance of human culture to the realisation of change.

Over the next few decades, solar, wind and other renewable energy installations will be distributed across rooftops, farmlands, vacant lots, greenfields, and sites of every scale around the world, and they will have an impact on our cities and rural landscapes like nothing else since the construction of automobile superhighways.

While the vast majority of our renewable energy infrastructure will be utilitarian installations designed to meet the most competitive power purchase agreements, the energy transition also offers the opportunity for creative expression at more cherished sites and in instances where community engagement will be key to permitting and long-term project success. In these cases how can clean energy technology weave itself into the cultural landscapes of our cities?

Here is where we can begin to engage the general public and get people excited about the renewable energy transition. By using clean energy technology as the media for public art and creative placemaking we can beautify our cities while making them more sustainable. We can educate and inspire a wide-ranging public to be excited about the beauty of a renewable energy future.

The recent history of climate communications has taught us that people are not motivated to action through apocalyptic warnings and threats alone. Rather we are driven to act by a sense of desire for a new and better world. Something captivating has to convince us that the transition to a post-carbon world has a happy ending, and the story it tells us has to be culturally relevant. How do we motivate people to act in this critical moment? How can we captivate the imagination of the world?  

What if we could change the climate crisis message of fear and disaster—images of drowning cities, green fields turned into deserts, mass extinctions—into one of hope and optimism? What if rather than show disaster images to run away from, we could instead design a future that people desire to run towards? What if we changed the conversation about gloom and doom to one of beauty and cultural transformation?

The 2019 Land Art Generator (LAGI) design competition for Abu Dhabi sought to present real answers to these questions by engaging the imagination of interdisciplinary design teams around the world to benefit the people of the UAE.

The advancement of Masdar City’s construction into the next decade coincides with the development of a comprehensive strategy for public art of the sustainable city. The LAGI 2019 design site was aimed at setting an example of what is possible when we think creatively about energy landscapes and how they are experienced by the public. We can all look forward to the influence that this year’s design competition may have on the cultural legacy of our clean energy future.

Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry Founding Directors, LAGI