Do not fear the giant flowers invading your public space, they are peaceful creatures--in fact, they're part of a series of artworks Toyota's rolling out to hype various aspects of the 2010 Prius. Art installations and urban design elements are popping up in cities across the country thanks to agency Saatchi & Saatchi LA as part of Toyota's "Harmony Between Man, Nature, and Machine" campaign. (Also worth noting is Toyota's minisite The Ecosystem , a beautiful collaboration with GOOD about cool environmental initiatives.) According to reps for Toyota, the pieces hope to "reach people through public art while still getting a product message across." Here's a look at three of the recent initiatives you might have seen in a city near you and how effective they are in conveying the Prius' mission.
Solar Flowers is a traveling wifi station made up of five sculptures designed by Poetic Kinetics  which each include seating for 10 people (pictured above on Chicago's Navy Pier). Flexible solar panels embedded in the flowers' petals power interior batteries with 110V outlets perfect for juicing up cell phone and laptops, giving urban-dwellers a nice place to recharge during the day. The 3G wireless Internet nodes are located in the flower heads. The flowers' stalks, petals and leaves are custom cut and bent powder-coated aluminum, and the benches are molded polyethylene. At night, tiny LEDs make the flowers glow.
Last night the flowers opened at Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco, and they'll make one final stop in Los Angeles from October 3-18. Toyota is currently exploring options to permanently install the flowers after receiving dozens of inquiries from organizations across the country expressing interest in them. I'd definitely want some of these in my neighborhood; they're a fun and functional addition to the urban landscape, and they seem durable enough to withstand abuse. I could also see these at conferences or other laptop-heavy events where people need a place to sit and type, or at a bus or light rail station, where waiting commuters could recharge their BlackBerrys.
While not as much public art, Toyota also used solar technology to make temporary improvements to street furniture with these ventilated bus shelters that traveled along with the solar flowers. The special shelters feature solar panels on the roof that help run fans and circulate air within the shelter, demonstrating Prius' new Solar Powered Ventilation System, which uses a fan to draw outside air into the cabin to reduce cabin temperature when the car is parked in direct sunlight.
The solar ventilated shelters (shown here in San Francisco) seem like a great technology for keeping something cool on city streets but not necessarily bus shelters, as I can't say I've ever had to wait so long in a bus shelter that I got unbearably hot (besides, they're usually cooler than everything around them due to their shade). What might have been more exciting is if Prius could have made some branded improvements to the bus stops in some cities that are in need of shade or benches. Or just made more solar flowers!
Finally, California drivers might have seen the Harmony Floralscapes, a series of freeway landscaping murals that use 20,000 flowers to create abstract images of Priuses, flowers and suns (the images have to be non-commercial in nature due to Federal highway regulations). Nine of these will grace California freeways, with two already installed in L.A. The good news is that the Floralscapes are putting people to work: The sites are maintained by the not-for-profit L.A. Conservation Corps., which provides training, education and work experience to at-risk youth and young adults.
But I'm not digging this idea as much. These "billboards" are actually owned by Greenroad Media , a company that positions itself as an "eco-advertiser," and will be renting the space to other advertisers after Prius' four months. But while Greenroad Media's permanent irrigation systems installed specifically for the ads do improve the right-of-way, the flowers will be rotated an astounding three times during a four month period which seems wasteful. Also, the marigolds and geraniums used aren't drought-tolerant--more hardy plants might not have to be replaced. What might have been more amazing is if Toyota had ponied up the same amount of cash to fund some beautiful permanent landscaping along L.A. freeways, which desperately need it. Something without a graphic image, even--besides, the car isn't very convincing when rendered in flowers--but with a more sustainable solution behind it that would require less water and maintenance. Now that would be true harmony between man and nature!