3 Inspiring Designs For Renewable Power Plants That Double As Art

What if where we got our energy weren’t just ugly, pollution-spewing boxes?

When the first boxy concrete power plants were built on the edges of cities, no one wanted to live near them–not just because of the pollution, but because of the terrible view. Modern, renewable technology isn’t always better looking. That’s why one competition invites designers to rethink renewable infrastructure as public art.


The Land Art Generator Initiative started four years ago as the brainchild of an artist and architect. They saw the potential for infrastructure to double as a sculpture someone might actually want to see outside their window.

“We saw the offshore wind turbine arrays and concentrated solar tower installations that were happening at the time as sort of unintentional works of land art themselves,” explains architect Robert Ferry, who co-founded the competition with artist Elizabeth Monoian. “We found them to have an inherent beauty.”

This year’s challenge focused on Copenhagen, asking designers to imagine a thought-provoking sculpture for a local park that could generate enough power for hundreds of local homes.

Solar Hourglass, by Santiago Muros Cortés

The winner was an hourglass-shaped sculpture covered with mirrors on the top, capable of concentrating enough solar power for as many as 1,000 houses in the neighborhood. Underneath, visitors can walk up to look at the intense beam of light generating the electricity.

“It’s a profoundly beautiful, simple gesture,” says Ferry. “It’s an hourglass in form, so what it’s saying is there’s still time to turn the tide of climate change if we all collectively can get together and make the right decisions.”

Quiver, by Mateusz Góra and Agata Gryszkiewicz

The second-place winner is made of two parts–a tower and an energy-generating garden. A tall sculpture made of a technology called “windbelts” generates power through small movements every time the wind blows. It’s surrounded by a field of grass designed to be harvested every year and turned into biofuel.


eMotions, by Antonio Maccà and Flavio Masi

This project uses a series of screens to create a path that wraps through the park and out into the water. Made from a combination of technology, from solar panels to micro wind turbines and motion-capturing devices, it can generate about 2,000 megawatt-hours of electricity each year.

Though the designs were created for Copenhagen, none of them will necessarily be constructed here–the Land Art Generator Initiative is collecting ideas to share with cities around the world. The team now has hundreds of ideas, including designs from two previous competitions in Dubai and New York City. The first to actually be built will be constructed in Pittsburgh this year, though it was originally designed for Dubai.

The project hopes to change how the public sees this type of infrastructure. “It’s about using art to pull at the heartstrings of the public, and get people to inspired by renewable energy infrastructure, rather than being reactively against it,” says Ferry. “Every day there’s a new story about reactions to wind farm proposals and solar arrays where they’re not thought through aesthetically, and the community has a not-in-my-backyard response.”

The designers also hope to inspire changes in the largest renewable energy projects. “These artworks aren’t intended to replace utilitarian installations,” Ferry says. “They’re going to create energy on a micro or medium scale. But at the same time, we’re hoping that they inspire people–and that these NIMBY responses would then have a tendency to go away.”


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."