Rendering of Arch of Time, a large arch-shaped public artwork in Houston
Arch of Time, a Land Art Generator artwork by Riccardo Mariano unites the terrestrial and the celestial. As a time measuring device the artwork engages park goers with a magical light display each hour within a comfortably shaded outdoor space. As a community solar installation it generates 400,000 kWh each year.

UPDATE: The project has received great press coverage. For a sample see our post on News & Events.

Arch of Time, a permanent solar photovoltaic artwork, sets a new standard of environmental sustainability for public art.

Climate Leadership from the World’s Energy Capital

The City of Houston is taking a bold move in climate leadership, announcing its latest work of permanent art in public space. Arch of Time—a regenerative and permanent sculptural installation—which will be installed in a prominent public park in the city.

The LAGI artwork by Berlin-based artist and architect Riccardo Mariano takes the form of a 100-foot-tall triumphal arch and serves as a gateway to the city. It is also an interactive time-measuring device that creates a thread between the celestial and the terrestrial by beaming sunlight onto the ground plane of the public park. Each beam of light is uniquely composed throughout the seasons and hours of the day by the geometry of the artwork, which responds to the specific latitude and longitude of Houston.

Incorporating solar modules into the south-facing exterior of the sculpture, Arch of Time will generate approximately 400,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, equivalent to the demand of forty Texas homes.

Video rendering of Arch of Time shows how the artwork changes throughout the day, offering park goers an hourly spectacle of sunlight and a new appreciation for solar power.

Inspiring a Generation

“This unique artwork is more than a sculpture. It is a renewable energy power plant. It is a monument to a new era of energy,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “The City of Houston has always stood at the vanguard of energy innovation and the Arch of Time artwork stands in that tradition, highlighting Houston’s role as an art city and as global leader in the energy transition. We are inspired by the vision and creative thinking. Marrying clean energy, the built environment, and truly World Class art is Houston.”

The project is the culmination of many years of planning by the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI), a nonprofit dedicated to advancing climate solutions through art and design. It is being made possible by a consortium of donors with initial seed funding from the Acronym Fund, a foundation dedicated to advancing arts and culture established by Donald and Barbara Tober. In 2021, the directors of LAGI were invited to speak at the annual CODAworx public art conference, CODAsummit, presenting the Barbara Tober Keynote Address: Reimagining Public Art as Energy Landscapes for a Post-Carbon World.

Mrs. Barbara Tober speaks about her inspiration for leading the effort to bring Arch of Time to Houston.

LAGI’s vision of the energy transition is one in which artists and designers play a key role in bringing renewable energy technologies into landscapes and cities, using solar modules and other clean tech as media for creative expression and placemaking. In this way they hope to turn the climate conversation from one of despair to one of excitement. Since 2008 they have been holding open call international design competitions for cities around the world and have amassed a portfolio of thousands of ideas to demonstrate how renewable energy can be beautiful.

One of those ideas is Arch of Time, originally an entry to the LAGI 2019 design competition for Abu Dhabi (a Houston sister city) in partnership with Masdar City. Through a competitive process, Riccardo Mariano’s artwork was chosen by the city of Houston to be implemented at full scale. Through his engagement with the community, Riccardo has given his art a new title and modified its details to fit the context of the park and the uses of the plaza.

Rendering of Arch of Time, a large arch-shaped public artwork in Houston.
Park goers marvel at the hourly display of sunlight that appears each hour at a central location underneath the comfortable shade of Arch of Time by Riccardo Mariano.

Public Art as Climate Solution

Over its lifetime, the artwork will generate more than 12 million kilowatt-hours of clean, renewable energy—the equivalent of removing 8,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide. Through the clean energy it produces, Arch of Time will pay back its embodied carbon footprint. In other words, all the energy that went into its making—from the smelting of the steel to the drilling that puts the final cladding into place—will be offset through the energy it generates. Beyond its break-even point, which will be tracked and celebrated with the community, the artwork will live as a net-positive contributor to a healthy climate and the planet will be better off for its existence.

Speaking about his ideas behind the artwork, the artist Riccardo Mariano adds, “The apparent movement of the sun in the sky activates the space with light and colors and engages viewers who participate in the creation of the work by their presence. It is a practical example to illustrate the movement of the earth around the sun in a playful way. Arch of Time merges renewable energy generation with public space and into the everyday life. Inspired by science and powered by renewable energy, the artwork is a bridge between art and technology and encourages educational purposes while improving public space. At night the space within the arch will be used as a stage for outdoor public events.”

Tracing the path of the sun across the sky, Arch of Time is both a monumental sculpture and a shaded place to meet, linger, experience, and perform. The new public sculpture welcomes locals and visitors and will soon become a new destination for the city of Houston.

Night rendering of Arch of Time, a large arch-shaped public artwork in Houston.
In addition to its performance with sunlight during the day, Arch of Time by Riccardo Mariano will provide a beautiful venue for nighttime entertainment.

From Abu Dhabi to Houston

The project was made possible through the Land Art Generator Initiative partnership with Masdar City, a pioneering sustainable urban development in Abu Dhabi dedicated to creating a new kind of city and a new way of working and living. The design brief of the LAGI 2019 design competition inspired Riccardo Mariano to imagine the concept of the artwork.

“It was a pleasure to be part of the LAGI competition in 2019, and we’re very excited to be seeing the winning entry come to life—particularly in Abu Dhabi’s sister city,” said Chris Wan, the associate director of sustainability and corporate social responsibility at Masdar City. “We know that public art plays a significant role in the fabric of a city, and Arch of Time is so much more than public art: it will also educate the public about sustainability while celebrating and advocating for it. It’s a powerful combination. I hope to see more art like it in the cities of the future.”

Back at the City of Houston, the project is led by the City’s Civic Art Program Manager and guided by representatives from multiple departments including The Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, Houston Parks and Recreation, the Mayor’s Office of Complete Communities, Houston Public Works, the General Services Department, and the Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Sustainability.

The City’s Civic Art Program is managed within the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA). Leading the work of telling the stories of Houston’s neighborhoods and people, MOCA’s work in Civic Art includes policy making, commissioning and conserving artworks, and storytelling.

Houston’s Civic Art Program has entered the most robust era of activity it has ever seen and is focused on a community-centric vision for introducing artworks into Houston’s neighborhoods that both respond to community/neighborhood identity and contribute to civic pride.

Much of the Program’s current activity and installation of new artworks in Houston is driven by the Mayor’s Office of Complete Communities and the action plans developed for each, informed by community engagement, which include requests for more art and cultural experiences for residents.

Under Mayor Sylvester Turner, the city has launched its first ever Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, meet the Paris Agreement goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, and to establish itself as a leader for global energy transition.

Mayor Turner has positioned Houston as a leader in resilience and demonstrated the city’s commitment to build forward and build better, even in the face of economic and climate challenges. In support of these goals, the artwork will provide a unique and environmentally sustainable public amenity for the City of Houston.

Street elevation of Arch of Time
Arch of Time by Riccardo Mariano unites the terrestrial and the celestial. As a time measuring device the artwork engages park goers with a magical light display each hour within a comfortably shaded outdoor space. As a community solar installation it generates 400,000 kWh each year.

Distributed Solar is an Anchor for Socially Just Development

During Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration, ten communities that had been ignored for far too long were identified as focus areas for work across private, public, and nonprofit sectors to collectively overcome economic, environmental, and equity challenges.

As the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund is set to expand the number of low-income and disadvantaged communities primed for residential solar investment, visual and inspiring examples of how solar can be artfully integrated into the cultural fabric of our cities can help provide awareness and serve as a symbol of energy democracy.

Arch of Time fits perfectly within this framework. The artwork will be a lasting addition to the landscape of Houston, supporting sustainable development.

Watch the Houston TV coverage of the announcement with Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Watch a summary video of the project: