Art works, museums, and exhibitions are not typically considered relevant to green engineering, but this perception is rapidly changing as artists and museums cooperate to promote sustainability.
Consider the New York City Waterfalls exhibit designed by internationally acclaimed artist Olafur Eliasson. It consists of four man-made waterfalls installed along the shores of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Governors Island. What makes these public art installations unique is that their design and operation are deeply rooted in the principles of sustainability.
Economics and safety also prevail: All building materials are readily available, and the structure is made of the same aluminum scaffolds used for construction-site elevators. After the waterfalls are permanently turned off and dismantled, more than 90% of the materials will be reused in other projects. In addition, the waterfalls run on electricity, which is offset by green power generated from renewable sources through a special arrangement with Consolidated Edison. At night, the falls are illuminated with high-efficiency LED lights.
This is not the first time that art and lighting innovation were combined, and scientists and engineers were not the only visionaries responsible for the advancement of this new technology. For 40 years, internationally acclaimed lighting artist/designer Ingo Maurer experimented with various sources of light including halogen and LEDs. His innovative designs range from mass-produced light fixtures to one-of-a-kind lamps and unique lighting installations. Some of his designs were displayed from September 2007 through January 2008 in the exhibit entitled Provoking Magic: Lighting of Ingo Maurer at New York’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.
Also in New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art presented the Home Delivery: Fabricating Modern Dwelling exhibition this summer, which revealed the history of prefabricated home design and anticipated its future. In addition to drawings, movies, and architectural models, five prefabricated homes commissioned for this exhibition were built adjacent to the museum.
Sustainability, innovative CAD design, and digital fabrication are at the core of these full-scale prototypes. Each one is unique, and explores various innovative ideas, while focusing on efficiency, low material cost and consumption, ease of assembly, and adaptation to changing needs of the occupants. Unusual by today’s standards, construction materials include aluminum framing, polycarbonate floors and walls, laser-cut plywood panels jointed without fasteners or glue, natural and LED lighting, solar panels, and solar cells integrated into walls, just to name a few.
In Chicago, the WIRED NextFest exhibition is focused on technology and has become an annual event in Millennium Park. It showcases the latest ideas in sustainable design, health care, robotics, and other industries. The Green-category exhibits include an exotic Impulse PS HumanCar scheduled for introduction in 2009. Made of recycled plastics, this man-powered car reaches a top speed of 60 mph and is propelled by four rowing-handle electric generators. Also, Toyota showcases its prototype Plug-in Hybrid Electric vehicle and the 1/X concept compact hybrid. Compared with the Prius, the 1/X has the same interior space, but is two times more fuel efficient and weighs only 1/3 as much.
Other exhibits include SUNRGI, which demonstrates its “Xtreme Concentrated Photovoltaics” module that converts approximately 40% of sunlight into electricity, compared with an average of 15% for other devices. It also reduces the cost of produced electricity from $0.08 per kilowatt-hour (national average for coal-burning power plants) to $0.05 per kilowatt-hour. Another display showcases a device aimed at replacing conventional light bulbs. Called “Planilum,” the luminescent glass plates emit a soft glow, are exceptionally energy efficient, 90% recyclable, and can last up to 20 years. Among many other exhibits are plastics produced from CO2, Xerox’s environmentally friendly “Solid Ink,” and NASA-JPL’s “Climate Time Machine.” The Climate Time Machine program promises to help scientists better understand climate change by visualizing the vast amount of data continuously
accumulated by NASA and DOE.
Filed Under: Green engineering