Land Art Meets Clean Energy in 5,000 MWh-Generating Desert Sculpture

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Images: Decker Yeadon LLC

Contrary to popular belief, green energy doesn't have to be ugly, so it's encouraging when we see architects, landscape designers, artists, engineers and scientists working together to transform large projects that could be potential eyesores into works of wonder. We have some estimates of how much of the earth's surfaces might be needed by 2030 to power the world from renewable sources, so projects that do double-duty -- like this incredible solar power array-slash-desert sculpture aptly called Light Sanctuary -- remind us that the big and functional can ultimately be aesthetically-pleasing too.


Designed by New York architecture firm Decker Yeadon for a site adjacent to a wildlife reserve outside of Dubai, Light Sanctuary is reminiscent of an elusive desert mirage materializing as 40 kilometres (25 miles) of vertical photovoltaic panels, standing 33 feet tall. It's 80,000 square meters (861,000 square feet) in surface area, forming a visual ribbon and "waveform pattern" that undulates in the sand. The installation appears to be almost floating, thanks to the network "of strong but slender masts, structurally recalling the historical inheritance of fabric and nomadic architecture," which will also allow plant, animal habitats and waterways to remain undisturbed.


Number-wise, the project is nothing to sneeze at, generating almost 5,000 megawatts of solar energy a year. According to the designers, the serpentine surfaces of Light Sanctuary capitalize on the flexibility and efficiency of third-generation thin-film photovoltaics, which won't lose performance even under extreme temperatures and can capture sunlight from a wider range of angles, in contrast to conventional solar panels:

This dye-sensitized solar cell technology exploits the light-absorbing properties of the organic dyes that provide its rich color. Within the thin laminations of the flexible membrane, an organic dye derived from botanicals like pokeberries and other plants enables solar energy to incite a titanium dioxide electron exchange, thus producing direct current that is harvested by transparent polymer electrodes.

This maze-like mirage is one entry in the 2010 Land Art Generator Initiative competition, which aims to combine clean energy generation and technology with the Land Art / Environmental Art movement, in the hopes of encouraging what they call "solution-based art practice" in creating "aesthetic power plants". Though large-scale power plants are not going away anytime soon, it looks likely that there will be more and more reliance on urban and rural power micro-generation in the future. In the long run, initiatives such as this are a step in the right direction, ensuring that energy production will be visually and functionally well-integrated in our cities and communities.

Land Art Generator Initiative via Fast Company Design