· May 2010

May 2010

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The idea of an earthly Eden is one that is as old as recorded history. Privileged individuals over the past 100 years have lived lives that have had an Edenic air about them insomuch as they had want of nothing and were able to surround themselves with beauty and comfort. This simulacrum of Utopia that continues to expand its reach today among the privileged is built upon the foundation of the fossil fuel economy. We decided to bite into the “forbidden fruit” of seemingly inexpensive energy so that ten or twelve generations very lucky people could find some semblance of easy living.

Seemingly inexpensive. But how is it possible for human civilization to place a value on a material good that exists only once, the only use of which is to be combusted, and then is gone forever (leaving behind only a wake of environmental destruction)? If we keep our current pace of consumption, it will be gone forever by the end of the century in which we now live. That a barrel of a substance that will no longer exist 75 years from now can be purchased for the equivalent of a dinner out for two is a testament to the short-sighted nature of human behavior.

Another testament to the short-sighted nature of human behavior is that we have collectively decided to pay a monetary price (for the incessant consumption of this invaluable good) to those who extract it from the earth. In a sense, we are paying certain people large sums of money to act irresponsibly on our behalf with a shared finite resource that should rightfully belong to all people. No human hand went into its production, only into its extraction. So we pay the price to some humans for the extraction and we neglect the inherent value of its production (its real value) which should in any other economic system be the first cost paid by the one who would then sell it on again. The oil companies are in effect middle men dealing in hot goods for which they paid nothing. Royalties for the use of public lands amount to a trifling nod to this imbalance.

When all the reserves have been tapped out in 75 or 100 years will we be remembered as thieves by those who will tell spiteful stories of this false Eden? Or will we set the stage now for a new and permanent Eden that is rebuilt on new foundations of sustainable and clean renewable energy?

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Living in the UAE, where there are tens of thousands of canvas covered parking spaces, I’ve often lamented the fact that they are not doing more with that sunlight that they block. And now, FTL Solar has a two products that could transform the usefulness of parking lots in sun-belt climates. Here is a view of the hypermarket near our apartment:

It has about 100 parking spaces that are canvas covered. If all of these canvases were replaced with ones having photovoltaics, this parking lot would generate (according to FTL Solar product literature) 255 KWh of electricity on a sunny day (20 KWh per 8-car section). That is equivalent to about 20 homes, or 5 car spaces per home. There are at least 100,000 car spaces under such canvas coverings in the UAE. That’s 20,000 homes.

The application for use by the badu is something that is very obvious when looking at the above image. There are many people who to their great credit live very simple lives off of the land in this unforgiving climate. One of these canvases with an inverter and a battery could greatly increase the quality of life of these remarkable people.

Of course the uses of this canvas and other types of flexible photovoltaic materials is of great interest to the Land Art Generator Initiative as it could apply to public art installations!

via inhabitat


The 2010 Design Triennial: Why Design Now? is open at the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York. It features a pragmatic public art intervention of a different sort than the clean energy producing kind. Artwork that, all the same, can constructively lead to a more sustainable world and environment.

prosolve370e is a decorative three dimensional architectural tile that can effectively reduce air pollution in cities when installed near traffic ways or on building facades.

The tiles are coated with a superfine titanium dioxide (TiO2), a pollution-fighting technology that is activated by ambient daylight. Employing a unique configuration of this technology, the tiles neutralize air pollutants when sited near traffic or densely polluted conditions. Based on an innovative derivative of five-fold symmetries, they are assembled from only two module types to yield highly complex structures bordering on randomness. As functional ornamentation, they increase the efficacy of the photocatalytic TiO2 coating in the decomposition of air pollution. As a modification to existing architectural surfaces, prosolve370e essentially “tunes buildings” to respond better to their immediate environments.

Conceived to contrast with prevailing ideas of architecture as something immobile and permanent, the modules are fabricated with maximum material effeciency from lightweight plastics, then coated with a photocatalyst. The modules exhibited at the Cooper Hewitt use a minimum amount of material with a installed weight of only 4 kg per m2.

Some of the other works in the same exhibit showcase other interesting and creative ideas about energy design. Check them out here!


June 18 – August 28, 2010
Opening Friday, June 18 / 7-10pm

ECOAESTHETIC, a project of SEA (Social Environmental Aesthetics), is the first exhibition of SEA to be mounted in Exit Art’s main gallery. In keeping with SEA’s mission to present artworks that address socio-environmental concerns – and to unite artists, scholars, scientists and the public in discussion on these issues – ECOAESTHETIC approaches the mystery of beauty in the environment, which can be destructive or utopian.

Read more at Exit Art

The blog, Xenophilia, provides a very useful a listing of the Top 100 New Clean Energy Technologies.


Pavegen Systems has a nicely packaged retrofit system for existing pavements that will harness the power of pedestrian footfalls. Seems like it could be used on city sidewalks as well as in malls, stadiums or other highly trafficked indoor spaces.

Each paver has the capacity to power 20 lights similar to the one that is embedded in the paver. 5% of the power harnessed is used on the integrated light, the purpose of which seems to be to make it clear that power is being harnessed. The other 95% of the power can be stored and used to power nearby information displays, new media art work, storefronts, etc.

seen via the guardian


The other day we received a well-intentioned email that posed the question about why we are doing the project in the UAE. The sentiment was that we should be doing more good by proposing the project in Africa or another region that is more needing of energy. But there was also mixed into the email, some misconceptions about the UAE and I thought it would be a good idea to post the email exchange since it addresses some of those misconceptions and gets to the heart of why we are holding the competition, and why we are holding it this first year in the UAE.

The email that we received was as follows (unedited):

Sorry but how could you be part of the crazy event that are happening in the Dubai region??????

Propose some projects in africa, in lost areas where people are starving, There are SO MUCH places that deserve such competitions than Dubai. Please do not tell me that you don’t know that this project is going to be part of the “heavy consuming tourists attractor” that they are creating there! This area is a place in the world were the biggest energy is needed to live! Before to develop high tech solutions, maybe a little bit of common sense could make us go far further! I really have nothing against the Arab people, but this area is not alive! It is just a big showroom of a (fake) way of life where the only thing to do is consume!

The “real” people of these areas get poorer and can afford less and less because of these world scale projects….

How could such a good idea serve the aim of those tribes of investors who just want to do some Heavy money $$$$$$$$$$$$$$?

I know there are far more chances to get some sponsorship because those (unfortunately very intelligent) investors know that to get some tourist they need to propose different kind of activities….

I am really sorry for this mail but your project deserve far better…

And here is our reply:

Thank you for your thoughts and your kind email. This is the inaugural year for the competition. The reason that we are holding it in the UAE this year (from a practical point of view) is because we currently reside here, came up with the idea here, and we can document the sites and coordinate with people here. But it is also because 1) the country receives so many solar hours per year, 2) the country has one of the highest per capita carbon footprints and is wealthy off of oil exports – these two things make it the perfect venue to discuss alternatives to the status quo, 3) there is a lot of support here for such ideas and there is a precedent and the means for embracing large projects, 4) there is a rich tradition of Land Art by Emirati artists, and all the people of the UAE have a very close connection to the landscape, having been living quite organically with it almost universally just a couple generations ago.

The ideas contained within the design submissions will be adaptable for other areas, including places that very much need inexpensive/accessible energy (as you mentioned Africa, etc.) and we will be pursuing any and all outlets around the world toward representing designers in the construction of those project submissions that have real merit both as works of art and as power generating objects. We plan on holding the competition annually with future sites perhaps in the American Southwest, Australia, Southern Europe, Northern Africa, or China.

We are aware that once constructed the sites will generate international interest and increased tourism. We would like to generate as much publicity as we can towards greater public support for a quick transition from fossil fuels. We are not supportive of development projects that lack concern for the environment and we are doing our best to change the way that development is conceived of in Dubai, the UAE, and internationally. We don’t see the down side of helping the region increase its cultural capital. Everyone in the UAE stands to benefit from a project such as LAGI. We would ideally like to adapt the ideas toward installations in the rural landscapes of the region to provide off-the-grid power to communities that could also benefit from it.

With regard to some of the specific questions toward the end of your email, it seems that you have a misinformed idea of the UAE and the nature of the people here. There have been some very slanderous and untrue stories told by reporters who are interested in quick and easy hit-stories that generate reputations for themselves and that fit into the preconceived notions that the West has towards the Arab world. It is a complex and nuanced relationship that does not benefit from derision and dismissal. In many ways, the development strategy of the UAE was greatly influenced by consultants from Europe, America, etc. who were interested in making money for themselves and so the blame for the fast-paced development and over-consumption of resources is one to be shared. The time is now for designers with an ecological bent, to do what they can to steer the ship onto a more sustainable course. Not everyone in the UAE is a “fake” consumer just like not everyone in your country is a “fake” consumer. Both places contain a plethora of individuals and personalities that comprise their complex cultural tapestries, from the “fake” consumers to the sophisticated artists and academics, and everyone in between. And we all are human beings who deserve great public art and renewable energy.

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