Earth & Conservation

Art Makes Clean Water and Energy: Photos

The 2016 Land Art Generator Initiative challenges designers from around the world to blend art and science.


The Land Art Generator Initiative is one of our favorite things. A bi-annual design competition, LAGI encourages the construction of public art installations that also feed clean energy into the local utility grid. Previous competitions have been held in Dubai, Copenhagen and New York City.

Inspired by the California drought crisis, this year's competition in Santa Monica asked designers to incorporate a new twist -- installations that also produce clean drinking water. When art meets science, interesting things always happen. Here we look at ten proposals from the 2016 LAGI competition. Winners will be announced in October -- check the LAGI website for details and updates.

All images: Land Art Generator Initiative

Designed as a kind of industrial offshore pool deck and recreation area, The Pipe uses solar panels above to power a seawater filtration system below, which then pipes fresh water to the city. Meanwhile, visitors can take a ferry out and soak in hot and cold saltwater baths within the structure itself.

Among this year's more playful submissions, the installation titled "Wake Up" repurposes retired swan boats and turns them into wave energy converters. The bobbing boats power hydraulic generators, which in turn charge up batteries on the Santa Monica Pier. From the official submission papers: "When waves hit the swans, they emit a celebratory honking sound as a spectacle for the public to enjoy." Can't argue with that.

"Cetacea" proposes a series of offshore arches inspired by the shape of the blue whale. On the water's surface, wave buoys harvest tidal power by moving magnets through an electromagnetic coil. Wind and solar energy collectors are built into the sides of the sculptures.

From the Netherlands, "Aurora" consists of pier extensions holding aloft a synthetic cloud structure that changes shape, size and color depending on ambient wind and temperature. A tidal turbine generates clean electricity while a solar distillation unit generates drinking water.

Five different technologies for energy production are incorporated into the offshore ecosystem called "Flowerpops," including various solar, wind and wave solutions -- plus a system of rainwater harvesters.

Proposed by a pair of Italian artists, "Light Drop" houses a desalination plant that converts seawater into drinking water. The desalination process is itself powered by solar panels and submerged tidal pumps. The water drop imagery is intended to focus attention on California's water crisis.

Inspired by pier pylons and the shape of incoming waves, "Horizon Lines" is a series of transparent solar panels set at a specific angle to the shoreline. Each panel is illuminated with an LED light strip that indicates how much energy is being produced at any given time.

The otherworldly jellyfish shapes of "Cnidaria Halitus" are actually quite functional. Each stalk serves as a Fresnel lens, tracking the path of the sun and concentrating light to heat up internal boilers. Evaporated seawater then condenses on the inside membrane, providing up to 600,000 liters of potable water each day for the city of Santa Monica.

"Big Beach Balloon" is just that -- a 23-meter diameter tethered helium balloon that provides rides above the pier for 20 to 30 passengers at a time. Thin solar panels on the surface of the balloon gather solar energy, which is transmitted down to the ground via the tether cable.

"Ring Garden," proposed by a Romanian design team, functions as its own independent ecosystem, featuring a desalination plant, a rotating aeroponics farm and an algae bioreactor. The installation is designed to harvest seawater, carbon dioxide and the sun's energy to create biomass and fresh water.