The results of the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) have just begun to be made public. The LAGI is an open design competition for a land art intervention that can double as a renewable energy power plant, in the United Arab Emirates. From the initial postings of select entries on the competition's blog it would appear that many of the entrants have met the organizers' ambition of showing how large scale power generation could be done in a way that is both sympathetic to the surrounding environment and beautiful. The competition's brief stressed that the winner would not be the entrant with the scheme that generated power with the greatest efficiency, although this, together with feasibility, would remain an important consideration. Instead, the winning design should be land art first and a power plant second. Additionally, the best design should attract visiting tourists and raise awareness of issues around power generation, and also provide acceptable and even appealing power stations for the communities who live near them.
Perhaps the greatest strength of this competition is in creating the space for re-imagining power plants and extending understanding of the different forms that they might take. Two existing desert projects prove the viability of renewable power generation in the area: The Desertec Project has made the case for the potential of large scale solar power in this part of the world; and the Masdar City development, adjacent to one of the sites for this competition, successfully applies regionally-suitable renewable technologies for producing fresh water and generating electricity at a large scale. The LAGI competition has opened up an opportunity to move beyond the strict pragmatism of a pure focus on efficient power generation of projects like Desertec and Masdar City, and allowed equal consideration to be given to other aspects, such as form and beauty. However, it is the competition organizers' intention to build the winning entries, so teams have to demonstrate the viability of their concepts, in addition to producing visually compelling sculptures.
Several proposals tackle the immediately apparent opportunities and constraints of the desert, those of ample sunlight and scarce fresh water, while others look further afield. One of the most striking entries to appear on the competition blog so far is the Weather Field, by Lateral Office and Paisajes Emergentes. The design draws on the wind power available in the Gulf and imagines a field of para-kites – a cross between a parachute, kite and glider – spread across the desert, each one able to generate enough electricity for three energy efficient homes. The park would be publicly accessible and would attempt to engage with visitors in a variety of ways: the kites themselves would provide a dynamic aerial display; periscopes attached to the kites' tethering system would enable views over the Arabian Gulf; and, adventurous visitors could be harnessed to a para-kite. The power of the concept was extended when these parks were imagined as part of a larger strategy for the Gulf, with energy parks full of kites gradually taking the place of the infrastructure necessary for oil extraction and refinement. Although not the most easily realizable proposal, it certainly succeeds in challenging the idea of what a power plant is.
Other entries will appear on the competition blog at the rate of a few a week throughout the autumn, with the winner to be announced in January 2011.
Alison Killing is an architect and urbanist based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
All images of the Weather Field project via Land Art Generator Initiative.