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Georgia Tech Student Teams Recognized at Land Art Generator Initiative Ideas Competition

Installation designs commended for ability to inspire while generating renewable power for thousands of homes around the world

Two teams of Georgia Tech School of Architecture students were recently selected as the first and third prizewinners in the prominent Land Art Generator competition for public art installations in New York’s expansive Freshkills Park.

“Scene-Sensor” by James Murray and Shota Vashakmadze captured first place and a handsome $15,000 prize, while “Pivot” by Vermouth (Vee) Hu and Ben Smith (currently a graduate student at Yale University) finished third.

Hundreds of entrants—professional and student design teams from around the world—submitted their designs for a site-specific public artwork that, in addition to its conceptual beauty, had to harness energy cleanly from nature and convert it to electricity for the utility grid.

Organized by the Land Art Generator Initiative, the competition aimed to bring together artists, architects, scientists, landscape architects and engineers to see to the design and construction of public art installations that uniquely combine aesthetics with utility-scale clean energy generation.

The Georgia Tech teams were introduced to the competition through their undergraduate architecture studio in spring 2012 directed by Fred Pearsall, senior ecturer. The students were divided into teams of two or three and guided through the process of designing an entry for the competition.

In a statement, Pearsall said, “You go into a competition because you think there is something to be learned. So this was a golden teaching opportunity.” Pearsall's expertise is landscape-based, ecological art and architecture.

“Fred taught us so much through this studio and he was instrumental in
the success of this project,” said Smith in a news release. “We looked at everything from philosophy to biomimicry. However, the most important thing he taught us was the value of collaboration.”

Explained Murray, “Shota and I agreed that our studio project would not end on a deadline of when the semester ended. The interest of carrying it further really made us push ourselves. From every level, it was such a well thought out competition and an amazing site.”

"Scene Sensor," by Murray and Vashakmadze, is a striking piezoelectric energy-generating art project designed to be installed above and below the surface of the Staten Island Park. With a proposed energy-generating capacity of 5,500 megawatt hours, the installation is comprised of two planes that span the width between the site’s northern and eastern mounds, where a strong wind current exists. The screens are designed to map the wind currents, and the flexible panels are also free to shift with the wind. This means that instead of harnessing the wind’s energy like a turbine, the metallic mesh is fitted with piezoelectric wires that transform motion into electrical current.

Visitors to the site can also generate energy by walking on an intersecting platform that lies above the water line.

“On a spring day,” according to the students’ design brief, “the energy collected through these intersecting processes would be enough to power 1,200 households.” At night, the screens are lit up so that visitors can see what the wind map looks like in living color.

“PIVOT,” by Hu and Smith features two intertwining operations: a floating “terra nova” constructed at the moving line between land and water and billowing piezoelectric canopy system and floating docks that gather human flows on the site. With this design, visitors to Freshkills can enter the installation from boat launches at each end of the decking or from a series of gangplanks located along the proposed trail system.

Located within the river valley confluence, PIVOT captures energy from nature and generates 2,578 megawatt hours of clean electricity annually to be used in surrounding homes. This lightweight structure provides a maximal beneficial impact by not bearing on the landfill cap. Rather, it occupies only 18 acres of land at the water’s edge. The metal mesh and translucent fabric maximize visibility and sunlight beneath the system to ensure the survival of sea grasses and other edge species.

“This has been a great opportunity to meet and have conversations with architectural and planning professionals,” said Hu. “The greatest benefit is to learn how to approach a design problem with people who have a variety of perspectives when it comes to design.”  

School of Architecture Chair George Johnston observed, “This great success of these four remarkable students confirms what we all recognize, that Georgia Tech undergraduate students are among the best anywhere, and that our commitment to undergraduate education in architecture is stronger than ever as exemplified by the inspired teaching of Fred Pearsall.”

The monetary prize awards to the winners of the 2012 LAGI design competition will not guarantee a commission for construction; however, LAGI will work with stakeholders both locally and internationally to pursue possibilities for implementation of the most pragmatic and aesthetic designs that come from the biennial LAGI competitions.

- The Georgia Institute of Technology contributed to this story

Bill Palmer October 27, 2012 at 01:25 PM
Great creativity both in the esthetic and ecology realms. Just one question....the electric capacity is stated as 5500 megawatt-hours. But megawatt-hours is not a "power" measurement, it is an "energy" parameter. Over what period of time (e.g., 1 hour, 1 day, 1 year, etc) is that amount of energy produced? Thanks. Bill Palmer

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