Sustainable Stories: Land Art Generator Initiative

LAGI Solar Hour Glass

EDITOR’S NOTE: We want to learn how other companies approach sustainability, so we’ve decided to publish a series of posts featuring innovative companies and people who are doing their part to support our planet. See below to read a guest blog from Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry, founding directors at Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI).

What is the mission of your organization and how did LAGI begin?
LAGI is a program through the non-profit Society for Cultural Exchange that challenges the world to reimagine the beauty of clean energy landscapes.

As we see a greater proliferation of clean energy generation, such as wind turbines and solar arrays, within urban and suburban environments, energy generation has become an integral part of our daily lives. Now is the time to proactively address the influence of energy generation on the built environment, and imagine a future in which clean energy technologies are intentionally designed into well‐planned cities.

In an effort to present inspirational examples of creative energy landscapes, LAGI engages teams of artists, architects, scientists, and engineers to design distributed renewable power installations that are safely and aesthetically integrated into public spaces.

LAGI Energy DuckExplain the LAGI design competition.
Our biennial design competition gathers ideas for public art that utilizes the latest innovations in renewable energy science and technologies.

The art itself continuously distributes clean electricity to the city grid. At the same time, the installations create platforms for educational outreach on the subjects of renewable energy, sustainable development, climate change, and ecological conservation.

The design brief for the LAGI competition contains the following baseline requirements:

  • The artwork is 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 will occur on site.
  • The design should be constructible (rather than theoretical), and must respect the natural ecosystem of the design sites.

When did LAGI begin and do you fund and build the winning designs?
The project began in 2008 when we were living in Dubai. We held our first competition for sites in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in 2010. We received hundreds of submissions from more than 40 countries and decided to continue the project on a biennial schedule.

In partnership with New York City’s Department of Parks & Recreation, we held the 2012 LAGI design competition for a site within Freshkills Park (the former Fresh Kills Landfill), for which we received 250 submissions from around the world. LAGI was delighted to be an event partner of Sharing Copenhagen, the official celebration of Copenhagen’s status of 2014 European Green Capital.

We’re pleased to announce that LAGI 2016 will be held in Southern California.

Each biennial is held as an “ideas” competition with no commitment to construction by the site owner. Since the concept designs have not yet been developed, it is not possible to put a price tag on the construction prior to the closing of the competition.

Also, since the jury includes international professionals, the winning design is not necessarily the same one that would be picked to be built by local stakeholders. So the winner of the biennial LAGI design competition receives the prize money, a free trip to the award ceremony, and a lot of publicity, but is not guaranteed a commission to detail and build.

Wind Nest

Please explain your organization’s sustainability efforts and goals.
We believe that presenting positive “Cli-fi” visions of joyful and carbon free energy landscapes can be more successful in shifting public opinion towards environmentally beneficial cultural changes vs. the images of a burning and flooding Earth that sometimes accompany well-intentioned graphical depictions of the future.

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 of clean energy resources aside from the dangers of not shifting to clean energy.

Why is sustainability important to LAGI, and how do your employees and stakeholders participate?The participants in our biennial competition and related events are curious to discover new ways for our constructed environment to live in harmony with the natural environment. By integrating renewable energy technologies and highly conceptual design, participants are proving we can reach net-zero development goals without sacrificing beauty or aesthetic sophistication.

The cities, developers, and public parks that commission LAGI artworks are looking for creative ways to meet their sustainability goals. By merging the capital investments in public art and on-site renewable energy, we can expand the capacity of both, providing an amenity for the public where they can be inspired by and learn about new technologies.

What advice would you give other companies/organizations who are trying to get their sustainability initiatives off the ground?
Consider the design of sustainable initiatives the way that you would the design of a net-zero building. Smart planning on the front end can trickle down benefits throughout the process.

It’s always more difficult to retrofit existing infrastructures than it is to design them from a blank canvas. Draft a set of real and tangible outcomes and a multi-year strategy for achieving them. Expect to pour thousands of hours into your idea before you will be in a position to convince others of its worth.

In our case, we made a decision that it was important to cross-fertilize the worlds of design, public art, and renewable energy infrastructure. Initially, we set out to design our own proposals for large-scale public artworks that functioned as clean energy power plants for the city. Quickly, we came to the realization that our work would have a much more resounding impact if we put aside our own ideas and instead opened ourselves up to feedback from the communities we want to serve.

By doing so, we have amassed a portfolio of more than 600 design ideas from 60 countries, receiving requests to build land art generators in cities around the world. The advice here is to not keep your ideas to yourself. Give them to the world to play with and watch the magic happen.

Land Art Generator Initiative FoundersHow do you generate funding and support, and where can people learn more about LAGI?
Ours is a grassroots, sweat-equity story. LAGI is our passion project that only became financially sustainable in the last year.

When we launched the 2010 LAGI design competition for Dubai and Abu Dhabi, we offered $20,000 in prize money that we did not have. It was a serious risk that we took because we felt passionately about the idea and about the importance of the timing of it. Looking back, it seems more stressful than it felt at the time because we were working so hard, we didn’t have time to be stressed.

Our efforts turned out to be worthwhile when Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company, came on as a sponsor after the competition had closed and the program’s success was evident.

Since then, we have been fortunate to have the support of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Horne Family Foundation, Heinz Endowments, The Hillman Foundation, The Capital Region of Denmark, and others who have seen the benefit that LAGI projects bring to the healthy development of sustainable cities.

Our non-profit is also able to earn income through the management of land art generator projects from schematic design through commissioning and operations.

You can view the amazing submissions to the LAGI competitions and learn more about us at www.landartgenerator.org.

Also, visit us on Twitter @PoweredByArt and on our Facebook page. Our website is http://landartgenerator.org/.

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To read about more businesses and people focused on sustainability, visit our “Sustainability Stories” archive by clicking here.