Art Wind Energy Unit (A.W.E.)
Submission to the 2012 Land Art Generator Initiative NYC design competition

Artist Team: Ana Morcillo Pallares, Jonathan Rule
Artist Location: Cieza (Murcia), Spain

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Artist Descriptive Text:

The A.W.E. unit or Art Wind Energy unit, combines sculpture, engineering and wind to generate clean energy and offset the new energy demands at Freshkills. The A.W.E. kinetically twists making reference to the cyclical movement produced by the winds interaction with the turbines. It is composed to be a piece that attracts the attention of the visitor through a visual stimulation evoked by its structural fragility. In addition, it serves as a spatial generator to be used as a 360° look-out so visitors can gaze in AWE at the transformation that has taken place at Freshkills.

The site chosen for the first five units is the North Park mound which is to be built-out by 2016. The units are integrated within the internal park road and path system as well serving as a look-out point as indicated in the Draft Master Plan. An additional 10 units can be installed on the East Park mound when it reaches completion in 2036. To mitigate negative effects on the mounds fragile cap, the choice was made to use a lightweight tensegrity structure. Large invasive structures that might become obsolete overtime are avoided. Instead the design responds to the history of change on the site by proposing a structure that is both flexible and adaptable.

Tensegrity is a combination of tensile-integrity as coined by R. Buckminster Fuller, who described these structures as, “small islands of compression in a sea of tension.” A tensegrity structure was chosen for its inherent and unique capabilities that are not found in traditional structures. They are highly adaptable and can be easily erected and dismantled making them ideal for reusable, modular structures. In the case of Freshkills, the mounds are in constant flux as a result of the decomposition of waste under the cap. This differential settlement is difficult to quantify and therefore requires a structure that is tunable to prevent possible damage and collapse.

The need to minimize the impact on the natural environment and preserve the landfill cap requires that the weight of the structure be distributed. The structure consists of 10 load bearing points organized in a circular array. Connecting to the ground at multiple points evenly distributes the weight allowing for the use of smaller foundation and reduces the risk of puncturing the cap. There are 10 structural tubes that are interconnected through a series of cables suspending the structure in a state of tension and compression. To help reduce the overall weight of the structure and minimize the emission of greenhouse gas, the tubes are made of 100% recycled structural plastic lumber. In comparison to traditional materials, recycled plastic structures have a lower embodied energy. They require less energy to produce and due to their weight require less energy to transport them to the site. Additionally, they do not leach toxic chemicals into the soil and water and will outlast treated wood products in harsh outdoor environments.

While tensegrity structures serve a technical purpose through their ability to distribute structural loads, they can also be considered works of art as seen in the sculptures of Kenneth Snelson. The visitor can be stimulated and challenged by the contrast between compressive and tensile members that evoke a sense of weightlessness and fragility. On the other hand the cylindrical form chosen for the structure is intended to convey a sense of cyclical movement that is also found in the integrated vertical windpsires used to capture energy.

Energy production in this installation is made possible by the incorporation of a series of VAWT windspire wind turbines. These turbines were chosen for various reasons. The turbines are made of light weight aircraft grade aluminum; therefore, reducing the overall load on the landfill cap. They can be placed lower to the ground and grouped together reducing required surface area for the installation. They are also designed to be safe and silent enough to not bother visitors. Additionally, these turbines benefit from an integrated transformer allowing for a direct connection to the grid.

The group of windspires is surrounded by an envelope that provides various functions. Its conical form and open slits concentrate the wind, increasing the wind speed inside the cone by up to 1.4x allowing for more energy to be generated. The cone also acts as a shield to protect wildlife from flying into the turbines. Finally, the cone is clad in “solar ivy” allowing for a second means of capturing energy, while at the same time providing shade for the visitor. Solar ivy is locally made in Brooklyn and is a customizable system for renewable energy generation made from thin-film photovoltaic’s that mimics the form of ivy and its relationship with the environment. The combination of systems for collecting energy and the climatic factors found at Freshkills will allow a single A.W.E. unit to produce 29,000 kWH/year.

According to the Freshkills Park Environmental Impact Statement, one of the challenges is how to offset the new demand for energy resulting from new park services and structures. There are two dates, 2016 and 2036, representing when areas of the park will be open and create a new demand for energy. The program through 2016 includes both North and South Parks and a portion of Creek Landing with an energy demand of 12,258 kWH/day. The 2036 program includes East and West Park and an energy demand of 30,589 kWH/day. The goal of the current plan is to offset this demand using different sustainable strategies including powering 10% through the use of wind power. To achieve this, the plan calls for two mid size wind turbines to be located in off-mound areas. The A.W.E. units, which are much smaller in scale, can be located on the mounds and provide a space for visitors to rest and take in the views. In addition, locating wind turbines on top of the mounds takes advantage of the speed up effect created by the movement of wind over a smooth hill. The units can produce 3.25% of the energy demand for 2016 and 3.90% of the total demand by 2036.