Issue 5 Introduction

© Mitch Epstein


ENTERING THE SECOND YEAR WITH MORE ENERGY. Issue introduction by Iker Gil, editor in chief of MAS Context


It seems quite unbelievable that a year has transpired since we published the first issue of MAS Context, MORE. A year in which we enjoyed exploring EVENTS, WORK and LIVING, and connected each time with more and more people. After the publication of the special issue University Works, over 50,000 people like you have downloaded the journal and 400,000 have visited the website.

When we imagined the starting point for our second year, we landed on the perfect topic: ENERGY, something this project wouldn’t exist without. So we assembled the people, projects and ideas that connect, in one way or another, to the concept of ENERGY.

Photographer Mitch Epstein, whose fantastic book American Power was recently published by Steidl, talked to us about the stories behind his photographic series, the inseparable relationship of Energy and Power and how he is bringing his work into the public realm.

Working on the field of environmental design is Sean Lally, whose office WEATHERS has been busy working from urban planning projects to installations. Julia Sedlock interviews him to learn more about his ideas on environment, the challenges of his approach to this visual period, and the role of the architect in these projects.

Photographers Chris Martin and Cesar Russ bring us those unforgettable moments during concerts when the energy of performers and audience align.

If you don’t believe in the importance of school projects, here’s proof to the contrary. Started at the University of Michigan by Elizabeth Redmond, POWERleap is able to harnesses applied stress in everyday life to generate energy. We talked to her to hear about the next steps for her current prototypes.

Landscape architect Marcel Wilson brings us the singular case of Lanai Island in Hawaii. Former capital of the world of pineapples, its current owners are engaged in the process of modifying the ecology of the island by creating new resources in the form of landscapes, water, and energy to support a new economic model for its growth.

We looked at specific projects that expand the concept of ENERGY. Yes, they produce energy from renewable sources but more importantly, they become anchors that generate human energy.

The Ecoboulevard in Vallecas, Madrid, by Ecosistema Urbano, addresses the poor characteristics typical of suburban developments generating activity and providing a bioclimatic adaptation of an outdoor space.
Public Farm 1, the winning entry of the 2008 Young Architects Program (YAP) by WORK Architecture Company, took over the courtyards of the PS1 in Queens, programming activities for people, 6 mature chickens and a dozen peeping chicks.

The photovoltaic canopy in Barcelona, by José Antonio Martínez Lapeña and Elias Torres became the massive centerpiece of the public space created for the Forum 2004.

Realities: United uses their solar powered stalks of their project PowerPlant to signify the transformation of former industrial area into an emerging high-end business area.

Finally, thanks to the fantastic films included in the Prelinger Archives, we discovered a lot about the type of energy and ideals that the United States had during the 1930s, 40s and 50s. They are invaluable documents that show the economic and political situation of that period, the social values, and the enormous pride for the achievements.

Enjoy our ENERGY issue.


MAS Studio is a collaborative architecture and urban design firm directed by Iker Gil. MAS studio takes a multidisciplinary approach to its work, with teams including architects, urban designers, researchers, graphic designers, and photographers among others, in order to provide innovative and comprehensive ideas and solutions.

(As) American (As) Power

Amos Coal Power Plant III, Winfield, West Virginia, 2007
© Mitch Epstein


Iker Gil and Andrew Clark interview photographer Mitch Epstein, author of American Power


It’s through photography that Mitch Epstein visits the intersections between landscape and society. He captured images of energy production and consumption sites and their neighbors in twenty-five states, often hounded by Homeland Security agents. Iker Gil and Andrew Clark discuss the notions of power, both electrical and political, with Mitch Epstein upon the publication of the book American Power (Steidl, 2009).


IG: How did you start your series American Power?

ME: I had a commission in 2003 from the Sunday New York Times Magazine to photograph Cheshire, a town in southeastern Ohio on the Ohio River, where there’s a very large coal-fired power plant owned by American Electric Power Company. The company was advised by their legal department to buy out the town’s 200-300 residents and take ownership of all the properties because of environmental contaminations that had occurred, to stave off future lawsuits.

I was very struck and moved by the relationship between the community, how people lived and had a history in this place, and now had to give up their residences because of the contaminations. And also, the relationship between the town, the company and me. I got stopped a number of times and told I couldn’t take pictures. I tried to photograph the plant itself and they wouldn’t have anything to do with photography.

There was one woman named “Boots” Hern who, at the time, was 80 years old. If I had to say the single thing that unnerved me and made me think further about all that came up with American Power, it would be the experience of making her portrait. She was one of a dozen renegade holdouts in town who refused to sell their homes. She armed herself with a handgun and put these little Radio Shack-type surveillance cameras in her window because she had been harassed by some of the people from the company, trying to pressure her to sell. The image of this woman, who was like anyone’s grandma, has never left me. I woke up thinking about her back in New York. It was a moment in my own life where I wanted to look at the larger American landscape and energy as something that I came to quickly understand was so integral to the cultural, social, political landscape of this country. It enabled me to look in a very broad way at all things American but, at the same time, keep a thread of connection between all the pictures that I was making, so that I could bring together something that would be a kind of meditation on the state of things in America in the early 21st century.

Beulah “Boots” Hern, Cheshire, Ohio 2004
© Mitch Epstein

AC: Did you always see the series American Power as a book?

ME: I knew that I would ultimately do a book, because I have long made books of my projects as a way to assert my authorship, yet with this project, I did not think about it early on. I was working first with the 4×5 and then an 8×10 inch camera, making pictures that were large in scope in a metaphorical, conceptual way, but also in a physical way. I was often looking at very big landscapes, and I was torn with this very notion of “Supersize Me” as a kind of cultural phenomena and identity. So I made the largest pictures I had ever made: 70×90 inches. This was a new form for me. I really worked picture to picture. Even though all the pictures are made out in the landscape, all in the field, they were not premeditated; the process of building a set of pictures, a body of work, was done step by step. It wasn’t really until I had been through three or fours years worth of work that I started to think about how to bring this whole project together in book format. In a way it was good for me to do it like this, because by the time I got to working on a book, the pictures had already been very edited. It is really more a collection of pictures, organized sequentially, that find their own narrative in the context of a book format.

IG: In your series, Power is strongly tied to Energy. Can you talk about that relationship? Was that the initial approach?

ME: The whole project started with this notion of ‘Energy as Power’. It didn’t take long to understand the interconnection of all these kinds of power. Again, going back to Cheshire, it was a corporation who had the supreme power. They were the ones who were producing this energy that ultimately had profound consequences, not only on the local community, but as well on the national landscape. The power plant that I was looking at and photographing had smokestacks that were so high in the landscape that the emissions were ending up in the northeast and beyond. We here in New York have litigated with Eliot Spitzer against American Electric Power because of the acid rain pollution that came to the northeast region. It led the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] to institute changes wherein the American Electric Power had to basically build new stacks or install new scrubbers to change the quality of emissions.

I didn’t preconceive it in a sense, but as I went about trying to make pictures, I saw that the whole notion of power was something often hidden and, in a sense, very potent. In Cheshire, somebody came along and negotiated the terms of an agreement with the corporation that suited some of the people — but not all the people. Then “Boots” Hern chose to exert her individual power and to stay, because she believed that she had the right to live in her home and now she had reached old age. I myself was coming up against my own constitutional rights, my individual power was called into question because I was standing in public property making pictures of the power plant and I was told by the state police and local security at the power plant that I didn’t have the right to do that. But in fact, I did have the right to do that. What this project, in a way, prompted me to think about was where we had come to and where we are now as a society, and the kind of opportunities we face and the choices that we have collectively made in the second half of the last century, the period that I grew up in and emerged as a citizen of the United States. I took a lot of things for granted.

Power is for me is very meaningful and brings up questions. Who has it and why? Where is it obvious and where is it hidden? Where is it a kind of balance between all these various constituencies, be they corporate or community or governmental? And even the power of nature, which figured in a way unexpectedly into this project. Over the course of five or six years that I worked on this, I witnessed extreme weather, Hurricane Katrina and Rita, the hurricanes that came to the Gulf of Mexico and Southern Florida, and had significant consequences on the production and consumption of energy and also on people’s lives. Plus the extremes of climate change and global warming, which I witnessed first hand going up to Alaska and looking at changes that are taking place there, as well.

Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, Nevada/Arizona, 2007
© Mitch Epstein

IG: The locations that you photograph can be labeled as “security sensitive” places. As described in your afterword, it created considerable problems for you, with people even accusing you of carrying a missile launcher that in reality was your tripod. Do you think it would be easier now, with the current administration, to address the same project? And if so, would it influence your approach and message?

ME: Yes and no. I think things are definitely more evolved in certain ways with the current administration. There was this air of paranoia that was being instigated by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and we know now that it has been chronicled. But I still think that the way the coal and oil industry in this country function is to protect at all cost what they have at the expense of the public. So when it comes to photography, there are degrees of security risks when you get into refineries and nuclear power plants, some of the concerns are understandable in terms of photography. But the fact of the matter is that none of them want any publicity or any additional media exposure because they are subject to scrutiny. If you look closely at the way in which companies like Exxon, Mobile and BP, even this whole clean coal campaign that took place in the last year or two, they are using the media to basically portray themselves as being on the side of environmental consciousness and forward thinking in terms of the larger challenges that we face going forward as a society. And the fact is that’s a bit of a ruse. I don’t know that it would actually impact it any differently, because I think they don’t want to relinquish or rethink the power that they have. They answer to their fat cats. If you look at the records of all these companies, they are not making any kind of real changes.

Often times, when you are in these small places, you have local law enforcement very much working in tandem with the private security and so on. Let’s face it. They are drinking in the same bar. The irony is that all of these places are all photographed, they are in Google Earth, everything is transparent. So then, what is the big deal? I think there really isn’t a big deal. Obviously, if somebody is up to some mischief, they will be able to tell that right away and address it.

AC: As you went to the first places, such as Cheshire, and photograph them and then you move on to the next site, were you following a trail of conspicuous or malicious behavior? Were you seeking out places that you either had learned or researched about that fed into that mentality? Or was it places where you had this dynamic instance of consumption or production in terms of the plant, the size and the scale of the town, and its relationship? What was the journey of the selection of the locales through which the story could actually unfold?

ME: First of all, I am not an environmentalist. I’m an artist. So I wasn’t seeking to do environmental reporting in any proactive way. In fact, it’s the work itself that profoundly politicized me, and I had to some degree find, with effort, a balance between my own personal feelings, the passion that I feel about the subject and making pictures that weren’t one dimensional. Because I don’t think there is a single point of view.

I was learning a lot of the science and mechanics of these very different kinds of energy. I wanted it to be a cross-section in terms of the American landscape. So I looked at various regions that were rich in energy production and, through extensive research and reading, I designed these trips that were rich in terms of their energy production, but also often surprising. After I went to Cheshire, I looked in a more exhaustive way at the Ohio River Valley and the whole region going all the way up to West Virginia through Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. But after that, I wanted to look at something different, and in my research I read about West Texas. During the last century, it was one of the major sites where oil was discovered. A lot of those oil fields are all spent now, but in the last 15 years, Texas has become one of the biggest producers of wind energy. There’s this giant wind farm in West Texas that occupies a landscape that was once oil barracks with oil pump jacks, so I looked at that region. It wasn’t exhaustive; it was in some ways quite idiosyncratic, except that I was always looking to find interesting links that would extend the project further and deepen it in some way. I wanted to look at some of the sites that had been once the largest producers of energy, like the Hoover Dam, and also because it is such an iconic and magnificent project, and one where we really exercised our hand by diverting the course of nature. It created Lake Mead, an artificial lake with waters from the Colorado River. But the Hoover Dam is no longer operating at capacity and it’s questionable whether in 10 or 15 years it will be operating at all, because water in that area is as valuable, if not more so, than the electricity it can produce — there is a draught in the southwest. So I wanted to look at areas and sites that spoke to the history of energy within the American situation. And I wanted to go somewhere far afield. I even went to Alaska and drove pretty much the whole course of the Alaska pipeline.

And then I got interested, as I said earlier, in the politics of energy, in the military and their relationship to energy, and got in to look at a very small solar installation that had been set up at the Pentagon. On that same trip I went to the Department of Energy, where half the lobby was dedicated to the history of the Atomic bomb. That was interesting to me because it spoke to why we are in the predicament that we are in — our Department of Energy came out of the Department Atomic Energy commission. It was just not forward thinking, it was really quite backward thinking in a certain way. This overlap between nuclear power and the multiple uses of nuclear fuel within a single department I think is really quite complicated and maybe not the best thing. There were often these kinds of ironies and unexpected relationships between things that ultimately had resonance and were part of the fabric of what I could build here at the larger project, stepping back and trying to think about what this all meant as a collection of work. For me, the individual pictures have to work on their own and not necessarily as a whole. They don’t hold a single reading if they are so overt, they just become messagistic for me, and they are really not my best pictures.

IG: In several of your photographs, the usually imposing scale of the power plants is the inevitable background for everyday life. Did you encounter moments where the relationship between power and life was a little more hostile? What did the people say, for instance, who lived in the West Virginia house with the cooling tower in the backyard?

ME: It was really mixed. The irony is, that day I made two pictures. One was the Amos Coal Power Plant, the first picture of the series, and the other was the Poca High School and Amos Coal Power Plant. It was this beautiful autumn day, and I went to Raymond City, the neighborhood where I made the picture with the residential enclave and encroaching cooling tower. I didn’t have any difficulties there, and one woman very cordially invited me into her backyard and asked whether I wanted to appreciate the view. She had kind of a little concrete loveseat, as if they had this masterful view of a National Park. There was tremendous pride that I think she felt living next to something so monumental, yet also providing a service to so many. This view of the Canola River, coal barges would come up and down bringing coal from the mines. On the other hand, hours later as the day was ending, someone saw me in town, I was making another picture maybe half a mile from the plant, and they called the local law enforcement and, one thing led to another, after an hour I was interrogated by the FBI.

Poca High School and Amos Coal Power Plant, West Virginia, 2004
© Mitch Epstein

There were these extremes, and I think that was the case everywhere. I carried with me this constant underlying anxiety, “Am I going to be questioned? What will be the consequences of that questioning?” What in fact it did was, it compelled me to be very clear about the commitments I was making to take pictures. In any case, when you work with an 8×10 camera, you don’t spontaneously take a photograph. It’s not like a digital camera where it’s an effortless gesture. I was doing more editing and really looking very hard at times about how I could take the pictures without getting into some endless round of interrogation that was going to make my day useless. There was an intensity about it that got carried forward into the pictures themselves. I also had limited time on a site, so there was a kind of pressure in the whole process. It’s like anywhere, there are people who are not fearful, but open and curious, and there are people who don’t like things to come about that are out of the normal. But we are going to be in a more interesting society if we are not all the same, if everything does not have to conform into some notion of normal, whatever that is.

One thing that is interesting that’s valuable to this discussion is that in a way, I made all this work quite unencumbered by the politics. I had all that in the back of my head, but it wasn’t what was driving the pictures. I didn’t have a kind of manifesto that I wanted to communicate. When this whole thing came together in a book, that’s when it became most clear in terms of what it was doing as an entire project.

IG: Your wife Susan Bell and you are working on a public art project called What is American Power? Can you talk a little about it?

ME: Over the years since I finished this work, in collaboration with my wife and editor Susan Bell, who worked with me in this project, I have taken this work and found a way to extend it into a more public realm by creating a public art project where we are taking a number of these pictures and making billboards with the website: We are going to launch this project in Ohio in April in two cities, Columbus and Cincinnati, to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. It will bring the interested viewer, the public, to a website where that very question, “What is American power?” will begin a conversation on what that means. It may relate in a very specific way to energy, but it can relate in other ways to the potential and possibility of what American power is. My project is, in a sense, one answer, one response of many, and my project will be chronicled, a visual response to that question. Also, it will be a way in which some of the back stories, some of what I am talking about here that I don’t bring into the essay, some of the factual stories but also the connections between things, will be told behind the pictures. You will experience the project somewhat how you see it as a book, but with these other embellishments, letting the project sort of carry the audience to think further about what this project prompts.

What is American Power billboard
© Mitch Epstein

IG: It is very interesting to see how this series becomes the starting point of a discussion. As you mentioned, there is not a clear or a single message. You bring to the table your great work and then, people have to begin to evaluate the benefits and consequences. I think it is fantastic that the series starts with a book, but then takes a much more public approach and becomes a tool of discussion.

ME: Thank you for saying that. In a way, this is how process functions for me. For a long time we were calling it American Power Public Art. It came up in discussion with someone who helped us to think how to phrase it and how to present it in a more communicative way in Ohio and to turn it into a question. In a sense, “What is American power?” creates an invitation that is very different than making a statement. That’s what I think enabled it to become something everyone can respond to in their own way, and I think it also leads one to not just look back, but also look forward with this notion of possibility. I decided that Ohio was the right place to begin this project for several reasons: because the first pictures were made in Ohio, because American Electric Power, which is the largest in the country period, their corporate headquarters are there, and also Ohio is a state that is just very pivotal, it is a very energy-driven state. I think it’s a state where this whole subject can be fruitful in terms of deepening the conversation, but not doing it in a way that is not a single note; there is not one answer. There are going to be all these types of energies.

For me, what I am most interested in is to have people think in a deeper way about what they take for granted, to learn more of the consequences of these multiple types of energy. To call into question this profound sense of entitlement I think that we all have as Americans. We have grown up to assume that we have the right to have as much as we tend to think we do, but there are consequences to a lot of those things that we take for granted.

Altamont Pass Wind Farm, California, 2007
© Mitch Epstein

AC: In a couple of questions, we run into the idea of an Americanized ideal of having a certain amount of something, usually a lot of it. What if we take a look at our suburban lifestyle with a renewable energy source at the same time, like in your picture Altamont Pass Wind Farm? How do we take things that we are learning about in American Power and either educate other countries, or are they simply buying the suburban ideals and mimic the American version of it? What do you think are the challenges in those places?

ME: In a cultural way, I think the biggest challenge is to begin to think in new ways about what we basically committed a good part of the 20th century to develop, which is the notion of the American suburbs. It is now really quite clear that cities are much more efficient, and also in a way much healthier, in terms of the way in which communities are nurtured. I live in New York and I am always astonished by how such diverse cultural ethnicities manage to live reasonably well together. Not to say that there are enormous gaps between rich and poor and class differences that could stand to be in better balance. But it doesn’t take much to look at the ways in which we missed the boat on so much in the second half of the 20th century. We don’t have any kind of rail system to speak of, and you know, it’s a little frustrating because President Obama, on one hand, is quite progressive thinking, but at the same time we are not making big commitments to thinking in new ways about the infrastructure in the United States. And a lot of it is because we have lobbies that have been so strong against it. It took basically Detroit to get humbled to its knees to be compelled to think in a new ways about things like the electric car, building cars that are more efficient and not just satisfying the ego of a few.

Again, when you think about the suburbs, and you think about ownership, in society we have this kind of frontier spirit and we live through, in quite a profound way, this notion of manifest destiny, this idea that our resources are unlimited, that potential progress is infinite. In the end, we are at a point of diminishing returns; we can be much more efficient but also egalitarian without necessarily giving anything up. It’s this idea of entitlement and ownership that is very entrenched in the American psyche — and the very discussion of it, I think, gets people very shaken up. I don’t want to put it so bluntly, but I think that we built the suburbs and now we have to begin to think of how we can undo some of it, and instigate a new kind of social concept into the American plan.


Mitch Epstein is a photographer whose work is in numerous major museum collections, including New York’s Metropolitan Museum, Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of American Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He has published eight books and received numeorus awards including the Berlin Prize in Arts and Letters and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He has also worked as a director, cinematographer, and production designer on several films, including Dad, Salaam Bombay!, and Mississippi Masala.

Iker Gil is an architect, urban designer, and director of MAS Studio. In addition, he is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the School of Architecture at UIC. He is the recipient of the 2010 Emerging Visions Award from the Chicago Architectural Club. | @MASContext

Andrew Clark is a designer at MINIMAL and a collaborator in MAS Studio. He has designed solutions for communications, brand, vision, experience and visualization projects. His work is featured in “Shanghai Transforming” (Actar, 2008), “Building Globalization” (UChicago Press, 2011), and “Work Review” (GOOD Transparency). | @andrewclarkmnml

Farming the Air

© Danish Wind Industry Association


MAS Studio collects facts about wind power


Using wind power is nothing new. In fact, it is quite old. But 30 years ago, manufacturers from Denmark started serial production of wind turbines and since then, the production of energy from this renewable energy has grown exponentially. Here are some facts, numbers and anecdotes of the current state and future of this renewable energy.


As of May 2009, eighty countries around the world are using wind power on a commercial basis.

In 2009, the current amount of wind turbines operating have a total nameplate capacity of 157,899 MW of which wind power in Europe accounts for 48%.

World wind generation capacity more than quadrupled between 2000 and 2006, doubling about every three years.

81% of wind power installations are in the US and Europe.


© Danish Wind Industry Association


The first deep-water, large-capacity, floating wind turbine is being built by StatoilHydro. The 2.3 MW turbine can be anchored in water 120–700 m deep. It will be tested off the coast of Norway for two years.

In Denmark by 1900, there were about 2500 windmills for mechanical loads such as pumps and mills, producing an estimated combined peak power of about 30 MW.

Spain has over 18,000 MW of turbines installed, out of a total power generation capacity of about 93,000 MW.

On December 30, 2009, wind turbines in Spain supplied a new record of 54.1 percent of demand, forcing gas and coal-fired power plants to run at minimum output to avoid system overload as hydropower companies drained brimming reservoirs.


© Danish Wind Industry Association


The wind turbine fleet in place in the US at the end of 2009 (35 GW) is enough to power 9.7 million homes, and that number is increasing at 1 million homes every five months.

A report by National Renewable Energy Laboratory found “current wind technology deployed in non-environmentally protected areas could generate 37,000,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity per year.” In comparison, the United States currently uses 3,000,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity each year.

A report from the US Department of Energy claims that wind turbines could generate 300 gigawatts by 2030, which would power about 20 percent of the US electrical grid.

After decades investing in oil, T. Boone Pickens now envisions putting up 2,500 turbines in Texas to generate 4,000 megawatts of energy — enough to power 1.3 million homes.

The biggest wind farm in the world is Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center in Texas, spreading across 47,000 acres with 421 wind turbines that generate a total capacity of 735 MW.

Texas produces the most wind power of any U.S. state.


© Danish Wind Industry Association


Modern wind turbines, which are currently being deployed around the world, have three-bladed rotors with diameters of 70 m to 80 m mounted atop 60-m to 80-m towers.

Wind turbine blades have grown from about 8 m long in 1980 to more than 40 m for many land-based commercial systems and more than 60 m for offshore applications today.

Generally, a turbine will start producing power in winds of about 5.36 m/s and reach maximum power output at about 12.52 m/s–13.41 m/s.

Matilda was a wind turbine located on Gotland, Sweden. It produced a total of 61.4 GW·h in the 15 years it was active. That is more renewable energy than any other single wind power turbine had ever produced to that date. It was demolished on June 6, 2008.

The largest turbine currently in operation is the Enercon E126, with a rotor diameter of 126 metres and a power capacity of 6 MW.


© Danish Wind Industry Association


Wind energy has grown into an important player in the world’s energy markets, with the 2008 market for turbine installations worth about €36.5bn.

According to the GWEC scenario, the annual value of global investment in wind energy would reach €149.4 bn by 2020 and account for over 2.2 million jobs.

In 2006, the price paid for electricity generated in large wind farms was between 3.0 and 6.5 cents/kilowatt-hour (kWh), with an average near 5 cents/kWh.

Philippe Starck’s Democratic Ecology windmill can generate 20-60% of the energy needed to power a home, at a price point of around 400 Euros ($633).

According to the Global Wind Energy Council, the world’s wind power capacity grew by 31% in 2009, adding 37.5 GW to bring total installations up to 157.9 GW. A third of these additions were made in China, which experienced a growth of over 100%.

Having more than doubled its installed wind power capacity each year from 2005-2009, China grew its wind power faster on a percentage basis than any other large country.


MAS Studio is a collaborative architecture and urban design firm directed by Iker Gil. MAS studio takes a multidisciplinary approach to its work, with teams including architects, urban designers, researchers, graphic designers, and photographers among others, in order to provide innovative and comprehensive ideas and solutions.

Material Energies

Amplification installation, Los Angeles
© Sean Lally


Julia Sedlock interviews WEATHERS founder Sean Lally


WEATHERS, an environmental design office, envisions architecture as responsibility. It builds to break down the barriers between architecture and climate, landscape and urban planning, body and sensation. The work pursues the opportunities — spatial, organizational and social —inherent in the building materials that influence our daily lives. Graduate architecture student Julia Sedlock interviews WEATHERS founder Sean Lally.


JS: I will start with the question of possibility vs. speculation. In your work, it seems that there is a genealogy of earlier speculative projects, like the ones of Archigram, the inflatables… projects that question the relationship between human beings, sensation and their environment. You are in a new stage of a similar project where much more is possible because of technology. It’s no longer a series of fantastical images or funny little gadgets. In a way, it’s much more settled because, all of a sudden, you can make it happen. You are working within the realm of possibility; pushing what architecture can actually be rather than just creating the image of what it might be.

SL: I think a lot of that comes from, in a way, the fact that this is the second time around. What I mean by this is, if you look at the work from the 60s and 70s, there was the kind offantastical aspect of it because these ideas weren’t necessarily intended for implementation. What interests me the most about this is the question of “so what?”, spatially and socially. If we are going to do this, what are the trickle-down effects that may occur when these ideas are released into the system of our daily lives? It isn’t just a one-off thing that we interface with or explore but instead it can become, perhaps subversively, something that is part of our lives. At this moment, we have an opportunity to think about what that means for our current lifestyles. But I hope to always have this schizophrenia of unabashedly daydreaming on the one hand, yet striving to implement on the other.

JS: And yet, it seems like the project is still held back by the burden of proof, of showing that you can do this. You are bound by the diagrams, the thermodynamics, and the explanations that we actually can do this now.

SL: But I think that is shifting too. Going back to earlier examples within the office, I think there really was always this need to prove. There is always a diagram, there is always some sort of plan to show it happening, and I think that is shifting in our work because many of these smaller designs, specifically the Climate Design series, are intended to go into production. We tend to play out scenarios of lifestyles where it is, in fact, the end game condition that we are interested in by showing people spatial and social implications of the work, rather than storyboarding diagrams about how we came up with a concept. That has made a big difference in how I even lecture about our work or describe it. It’s really not A + B = C. That’s why we have D and E now, because you can’t really argue with it. I think there has been a real reversal in that.

JS: Which projects in particular are you thinking about?

SL: The Wanderings project is especially relevant to this discussion. It is a climate design project prototype that we are making. We just entered a competition in which we developed another project within this series called Undertow, where we had a crushed glass sub-grade infrastructure that you could walk on. It works with lighting and heat and many of the material energies we have been dealing with for microclimate design, but they would originate below your feet, so that you could arrange furniture circulation over or around it. It is a system intended for private gardens, or even larger urban landscapes. You could apply and configure the furniture around the various microclimates designed. Essentially, we did not design anything beyond the level on which your foot stepped, primarily because we wanted to see what kind of interactions it would allow. We did not want to specifically dictate where things had to happen: create a chair and place it here, or create a bench and put it there… Instead, we started with a larger field condition and then designed the climatic and microclimate boundaries in which people could locate themselves. It allows for those interactions and was intended as an exterior installation to act as an experiment as much as anything else. The office works at two very different scales: these smaller installations for testing out feasibility and behaviors of the materials and systems, and the larger building and urban scales that feed from that knowledge and then seek to tackle other issues.


© Joshua White

© Sean Lally

© Sean Lally


JS: I think it’s interesting that you brought that up because, in thinking about the Wanderings project, I was going to say that one of the more compelling images is the collage of the park scene where snow has melted in patches around the infrastructure. You start to understand what that really means for how people live and congregate in exterior spaces. But this goes back to the settled quality of it. This kind of representation seems critical to how you sell these projects, in terms of what is immediately and visually charged, what take a little time to sink in and really understand, and what might not be seen at all. This idea of invisibility also comes up in the work of Philip Rahm. You’re dealing with invisible sensations and processes, and I’m curious about how you think about that.

SL: It plays on a couple of aspects. For instance, we are showing the project Wanderings for two months at the Pratt gallery in New York. It is the first time that we are actually showing any of this type of work in a gallery because anything that we are trying to do is usually meant to be outdoors as it requires a feedback from the climatic context it’s situated within. The intention is not for them to be technological specimens on display on a podium that you can look. Instead, we use them as an opportunity to test the ideas, For example, the Amplification project in Los Angeles, which is deliberately located in an outdoor garden, became an exterior test to see how it could work and operate. The invisibility is a big issue because the materialities and energies that we are talking about rely on something more than the eye. So, even with the Wanderings project, you have to find secondary conditions that can index that shift for someone to understand it. In that case, it’s a snowy public park that shows when grass is melting or when people go from being solid masses to actually having color spectrum in their outline to express the interaction of the human body. That way you realize that they are feeding against the thermal conditions and that is actually affecting the physiology of the body. Visually, it appears to be an invisible condition but, in reality, you have to actually experience these conditions to understand that these other qualities are affecting the behavior, the thermal mass, the lighting, or the color spectrum. Whatever they are, they have potential implications but they are not based on just seeing an image, rendering, or model of it. And that is a big issue.

JS: Some people are working within that premise that architecture is image based and some are critiquing that.

SL: It’s a tough back and forth because we, as architects, are still trying to show people what these conditions are. So, as a designer, you are still publishing, writing articles and, at the same time, you need an image to show how the condition performs for the print media. So, either you default to images that have gradients superimposed on top of them, or, going back to the first question of the actual vignettes and scenarios, you have to have complex social interactions to test how these things work out, so you need some means for visualizing them. You have to play these variables out visually for the public to understand what dynamics are at play. Otherwise, the other option is to produce a diagram that explains either social interaction or some type of electrical diagram that says: this element gives off heat, it’s in a closed air cavity that radiates…etc etc, and then it just becomes a widget. Maybe it’s an issue of explaining vs. demonstrating. I’d much rather demonstrate it.


© Joshua White


JS: It seems that you are fighting multiple battles at one time. First of all, there is the question, within the architecture world, of how is this architecture. But also, you are dealing extensively with the awareness of the body and sensations. I feel that this idea of comfort, and revealing how social interactions are based on people’s own awareness of their physical comfort, is one of the major contributions of your project.

SL: Or even rewording your question, what has to qualify as comfort and is that what we’re designing for? In a sense, so much of what we design for are these locations within the psychometric chart for the human body. We say it is a comfort zone so we seek to meet 72º F degree interior temperature and a certain amount of humidity. And it’s funny as you look back to the advent of air conditioning and conditioning of spaces at the turn of the century to see where these ‘standards’ come from and how little they’ve changed, and how skewed these standards were in the first place. But in terms of architecture and why what we do is architecture, for me it is the aspect of responsibility, meaning taking on spatial responsibilities (i.e. facilitating the activities you design for within these spatial configurations). I think that is why this project differs from these conversations of sensation, effect or mood, which as far as I can see from this work, doesn’t take on any real responsibility within the profession of architecture by way of spatial organization. I’m saying that these material energies (the materials I’m interested in) have physical boundaries, actual boundary conditions that can organize and distinguish activities. I think it was Robin Evans who said that as architects, our primary goal is to separate activities in a hierarchy that we define and, at the same time, bring them back together. I am paraphrasing, but if that is what we are doing, and I think in many ways it is, then I’d like to know how these materialities can take on that role? Giving them some responsibility other than being qualitative, ephemeral, and evocative of moods and atmospheres. I’m not saying the work of WEATHERS doesn’t produce such conditions, but it’s not what we hang our hat on, that’s not where the project starts or ends. Those conditions aren’t my motivation. These materials, these ‘material energies’, in order to become architectural materials, have to be garnished with a responsibility and can become useful in the organization of activities and programs. They can work to divide something or they can work to bring two things together. They don’t simply work as an ephemeral quality or by-product. I don’t do atmospheres!

JS: It is easy to give walls and conventional materialities responsibility because it is visually obvious how they distinguish one space from another but, in terms of temperature gradient, that difference is not so obvious. People will not necessarily see it and know that this is space A and that is space B. They have to be in it, experience it and move from one to another to even understand that the transition occurs.

SL: Sure, but there are other things going on at the same time. Just having an empty room here and an empty room there would not get people to go to them. There are other things that it is taking on. There are the other types of emblems of the activity, the congregation of other amenities that are embedded within it, or byproducts and trickle down conditions that might be visible.

JS: So, this brings back the issue of form, which must be addressed.

SL: Form does become another aspect of this. Just because our area of interest are these material energies, that doesn’t mean that we are form hating, or that form does not have a role. It just means that it doesn’t have to be the impetus of the design. It doesn’t have to be the top down, starting with the sketch. Even as you put pen to paper, it’s usually to describe geometry, not many people sketch in terms of gradients or intensities. Form has a different role. It doesn’t have to be the initial starting point for the organization that we then stuff with the mechanical, electrical and lighting to comfort that space. The material energies and their gradient properties can actually be an a-priori approach in the project; it’s the starting point. Then, certainly form can play a role, but it’s not the same as it would be if it were the starting point.

JS: At a certain point, when does the consideration of these properties become analogous to the role of structural engineering in getting a building to stand up? Once it becomes common practice among the architecture community, then can you just go back to thinking about how things look?

SL: But I think this isn’t an approach because it’s some calling. I see an opportunity here that we should play out and see where it gets us. We are going to play it out and, if it becomes a norm, I don’t think my next step is to react against it.

JS: I guess what I am trying to say is that every project of yours is about climate, but what if you had a project where all that was happening but the description was actually about something else? When does it stop being the foreground? Or is it possible for it not to be the foreground?

SL: One example would be the Tamula Lakeside Planning project where we are trying to talk about a gradient nolli plan, generally understood in black and white as what is public and what is private. If you basically were to do the same kind of plan of conditioned space and unconditioned space (interior air-conditioning and exterior climate) you would get a very similar black and white plan. This particular project was a mixed use lakeside project to create a strategy that could break that dichotomy of conditioned vs. unconditioned space. Our thought was that within the Tamula Lakeside Planning project we were organizing housing, commercial space, hotel and recreation along the lake. It was a large urban condition and the thought was to see if we could extend the seasonal activities in Võru, Estonia. It wasn’t about creating a complete new climate in the area but extend the activities that generally happen throughout the course of the year. And if you do that, could you actually increase commerce? Could you actually increase times of the year where people are outside using recreational facilities, pedestrian movement?

The same way we don’t question the fact that we have street lighting, and that street lighting allows for activity to happen once the sun sets, these other materialities can be deployed in such a way that you can extend the season or even look for other things do not necessarily belong there. There are of course always some subversive actions and repercussions to such moves, just like street lighting is nothing like the sun rising, these climatic creations will not simply be recreations of know preconditions, but something other. We sought to do this with buildings that were elevated off the ground with green house structures above them that would essentially create the necessary energy that would be released through openings in the floor plates to the ground plane below. Certainly the point of this approach is to provide them with a mechanism to look at an urban system. These gradient conditionings were the urban form. The question for us was how can that affect everything from the commerce to housing, lifestyle, the hotel to tourism, which is a big part of that? That was really the important aspect of the project. That was really what we were looking at. The deployment of these energies was just a way of saying that this is the system that can allow us to do that. And projects go back and forth, so the installations are really investigations of actually seeing if we can fabricate and test these concepts.


Tamula Lakeside Planning
© Joshua White

Tamula Lakeside Planning
© Sean Lally

Tamula Lakeside Planning
© Sean Lally

Tamula Lakeside Planning
© Sean Lally


Within the office we are trying to figure out the mechanisms that make these projects work, trying to record them and test them. Sometimes they are more tech-like because we are really trying to press for their operation. But at the same time, we work at much larger scales, like in the Tamula Lakeside Planning project or the Estonian Academy or Arts, where we try to figure out what the implications are spatially and socially when these material energies are the organizational devices for these activities and programs. What does that start to bump into and how does that actually affect large-scale organizational systems? So to answer your question, we do work in two very different scales because one is the mechanism or trigger and the other one is the larger organizational factor.

JS: This brings up the issue of technology and data. You mentioned in a previous seminar that, as architects, we don’t have to crunch the numbers like a structural engineer but we need to have a basic understanding. At this point, it seems that making it work and knowing how things work at a technical level is really important.

SL: It is, certainly. But at the same time, that is when you realize that you don’t do anything by yourself, that everything is done with other people who have greater knowledge than you. Those casual conversations will push your ideas forward. Equating it, for example, to structural engineering, you have basic knowledge of roughly how much something can cantilever. But what we don’t know is if it is possible under the realm of feasibility. The question I think with mechanical and all the material energies is really our current education and knowledge of them is in terms of how much room do we need to spec to leave for them. It’s not what you can do with them but to make sure you leave ‘x’ amount of space in your building so you can get that in there, and that’s a missed opportunity. It’s not really their performance that we tend to have a rule of thumb knowledge of, but rather how much square footage do we have to allocate for them to exist in the building.

JS: I am thinking of Michelle Addington’s piece in Log 17 where she is basically saying that basic assumptions are not enough. And that the basic assumptions that we make are wrong because the thermodynamics of interior space are more nuanced and complex than anybody can imagine. Even physicists haven’t learned how to model these systems properly because there are so many factors involved. I wonder if we need to have more integrated and intensive working relationships, and maybe this is an extreme example, but Cecil Balmond comes to my mind. His role as a structural engineer influences Toyo Ito, for example, where the roles of the architect and engineer are complementary. The engineering aspect becomes totally integrated with the design of the project. In a way, the engineering perhaps can make the design concept come alive in a totally different way. Is that a relevant analogy in terms of the role a mechanical engineer can play in thinking about architecture?

SL: Yes, and I think that’s why there are a lot more offices today like Transsolar, that call themselves climate engineers, or Atelier Ten. Those are all offices that are taking bigger roles within the design profession, and that come at an earlier stage of the project. I don’t know if it is simply a matter of thinking of a similar relationship by swapping out structural with mechanical. I just think that the more conversations you can have with people who know more than you about these various issue and fields, the better off you are as a designer. But I really do also think that as architects, maybe we all have to have the ability to make extreme speculations and see what is plausible. In our office, we have this back and forth relationship. I don’t have a blueprint that we follow and I definitely don’t have a strategy that we deploy in terms of working relationships. But those generally start off with what-if scenarios. What if we could do this?


© Sean Lally


JS: You call yourself an environmental design firm rather than an architecture firm. Why?

SL: There are two aspects. One is that I am not a licensed architect, and I don’t currently have plans to become one. Business-wise, I also think that the way I see us moving forward with projects is really always through team building. Realizing that, whether it’s for the two projects in Estonia or future projects that we are working on now, even if I was a licensed architect, I would have to bring in another architect anyway when working outside of state lines or outside of the country. We try to build teams that basically add knowledge and, within the team, our role is essentially to bring up those what-if scenarios. Through the research we have been doing, the writings, and the objectives that we have, we outline a tent concept that can be implemented, explored and nurtured through a team environment. At the same time, these are our interests and investigations and we instigate that design conversation in each project. There was this ‘Low2No’ competition that was done, I think, in Helsinki where they put together large teams based on qualifications, and selected six or seven from that would ultimately submit proposals. I went back to try to figure out who the teams were that won (since we didn’t), and in a team of six, there were often only 2-3 titles that I would have recognized as a profession five – ten years ago. There would be an architect, a landscape architect, and an engineer and then, there would be someone like ‘Experientia’ that does design experience, ‘ARUP’s Foresight Innovation’, or ‘Space Syntax’ in London that does a kind of evidence based planning for social and environmental design. There are a lot of these kinds of offices that are becoming more and more prominent as designers seek more opportunities, not only as part of the market base, but in terms of creative opportunities.

JS: How does this play into this whole disciplinarily talk that some people seem to be focused on?

SL: I don’t know, and in a weird way, without trying to be trite about it, I think that discussion comes from insecurity. I think within the architecture profession there is a need to put the word architecture on everything all the time. It is the insecurity of somehow thinking that we are going to lose control of the profession, but instead we should be looking for new opportunities as designers. Does that mean that in the last year and a half, the office has become more of a landscape architecture office than an architectural office? Maybe. Is that because we’re following design opportunities that cross over into other fields? Definitely. I think within architecture there is this fear that the profession is being eclipsed by other disciplines and that somehow we are going to be moved out. If that’s the case, the answer isn’t slapping the word architecture onto everything. The answer is adapting and taking more responsibility, whatever that term turns into. That way again, with the term environmental design, it doesn’t behoove me in any way to not be called an architect. If I can still get the work and I can still play a role as a designer in the built environment, it doesn’t really bother me what profession I am representing in the process. I think we as an office are still finding our footing in this discussion, and as contracts need to be signed and legal responsibilities need to be parsed out, it can get complicated. When Dana Cuff lectured at UIC the other night, she mentioned the therapeutic gardener, and how now they want to lock it down as a profession where it would be a registered moment so that landscape architects and architects can’t do the same work,. That to me seems absolutely crazy. The fact is that we don’t need any more locked down professions, specializations that lock us out of creativity, not as a business model but as just an attempt to engage the environment around us. The issue with specialization is that it becomes such a small sliver that keeps you from engaging with the bigger audience or bigger knowledge base.

JS: I think the thing about holding on to architecture is not always an issue of control but of how the public perceives the role of an architect, which is often understood as service provider rather than speculative thinker or cultural figure…

SL: I am not saying that my role should be diminished in the process in any way. At the end of the day, I’m looking for opportunities to both realize these ideas while simultaneously continue to push forward and see where these ideas and avenues can bring us next. I was educated as a landscape architect as well as an architect and at this point I feel fortunate enough to have grabbed onto a thread that I’m willing to see where it leads me, what fields it brings me through, the business models that need to be formed to deliver it and the little worlds that we can create doing it!


Amplification Installation
WEATHERS, Part of the Gen(h)ome Project, Schindler House, MAK Center for Art and Architecture, Los Angeles, 2006–07, Curated by Open Source Architecture, Kimberli Meyer and Peter Noever.

Tamula Lakeside Planning
WEATHERS in collaboration with Morris Architects, Võru, Estonia, 2008

WEATHERS, 2009-2010

WEATHERS, 2008-2010


Sean Lally founded the office WEATHERS to embrace the potential overlap between the disciplines of architecture, landscape architecture and urban design. He is an Assistant Professor at the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois Chicago. Sean is most recently a quest editor and contributor for the AD Journal issue entitled “ENERGIES – New Material Energies” His current book, The Air on Other Planets – A brief History of things to Come, is forthcoming. | @Sean_Lally

Julia Sedlock is in her final year of the M. Arch program at UIC School of Architecture. As a founding member and editor of UIC’s student journal Fresh Meat, her previous interview credits include K. Michael Hays, Michael Speaks and Stan Allen. Julia’s post-graduation plans include the development of a design cooperative which will provide a platform for opportunistic and transient collaborations.

Staged Energy

New Found Glory in Ft. Lauderdale at Revolution
© Chris Martin


Photographers Chris Martin and Cesar Russ capture the exuberance of being on stage.


Nothing equals the electricity of a live performance. Every single person in the room feels the energy of it. Photographers Chris Martin and Cesar Russ capture the exuberance of being on stage—and being in the audience, too.


Hey Monday live at Bamboozle Left
© Chris Martin

Delores Scott at Lee’s Unleaded
© Cesar Russ

Delores Scott at Lee’s Unleaded
© Cesar Russ

Lee’s Unleaded
© Cesar Russ


Chris Martin is a 26 year old photographer based in South Florida and specializing in music, commercial, editorial, portrait, wedding, engagement, child, and event photography. | @wordsnowheard

Cesar RussCesar Russ is a photographer based in Chicago who has worked for some of the most prestigious international press publications. In 2007 he was named the 2007-2008 “Artist of the Year” by the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau.

Power Move

Testing POWERleap prototype in Chicago’s Millennium Park
© POWERleap


Iker Gil interviews Elizabeth Redmond, founder and president of POWERleap


It’s one small step for man, one giant leap for power kind. Piezoelectricity, which harnesses the energy that resonates from the vibrations of human activity, is both the art and science of POWERleap. Iker Gil interviews the founder and president Elizabeth Redmond.


IG: How did the project start?

ER: POWERleap started during my 4th year of design school at the University of Michigan. We had our entire year to do a body of work worth 12 credits. I set out to design systems that generated electricity from the human body. I started designing wearables like solar necklaces, turbine belts, etc. Then I came up with the idea for POWERleap and never stopped.

IG: How does it work?

ER: POWERleap utilizes the phenomena of piezoelectricity where electricity is generated from an applied stress. Instead of utilizing mechanical displacement like what is necessary with magnetic motors and micro-turbines, piezoelectric materials allow us to harvest vibrations thereby creating a product with no moving parts.


Diagram of POWERleap
© POWERleap


IG: How do you store the energy generated?

ER: The energy generated is aggregated over a number of tiles and then goes through a harvesting circuit, which conditions the power and stores it in a battery as DC power.

IG: What is the current situation of the prototype? Have you already installed prototypes in the public or private sector? And when do you expect having the first commercial application?

ER: We have done temporary installations of prototypes but no permanent installations to date. We are now transitioning into our final commercial development phase taking various prototypes into a commercially viable solution. We plan to have our first installations in early 2011.


POWERleap prototype installed at Chicago’s Sonotheque Dance Club
© POWERleap


IG: So far, have you received more interest from the public sector such as city halls for applications in roads and sidewalks, or from the private sector (nightclubs, gyms…)?

ER: Most interest has come from the commercial sector I’d say with flooring manufacturers, architecture firms, etc. We have a number of interested private customers as well as large municipalities fairly evenly across the globe. Many of the initial inquiries from the public sector have come from tourism and travel departments.

IG: How much energy can a person walking generate per hour and what would that power?

ER: Currently we can generate10 Watts per square meter per hour. This equals about 1kWh per hour from 100 square meters with about 3,000-5,000 people each hour. In locations like busy airport terminals, we can generate 10-20kWh per day. This is enough to power lighting, electronic displays, or an average American home for one day.

IG: Unlike solar and wind power, for example, that requires the addition of new elements to the buildings, POWERleap is integrated and thus not “intrusive”. Do you think this aspect will help cities and buildings incorporate it faster and get a positive reaction from the public?

ER: Absolutely. There is little to no infrastructure cost for POWERleap. Also, we abide with standard building codes and also help clients achieve LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] points through energy efficiency, alternative energy, and green materials. Unlike any other alternative energy product, POWERleap is intended for dense urban and interior environments. This fact alone I think will lead to a significant uptake in our product.


POWERleap presentation in Abu Dhabi at the World Future Energy Summit in January of 2010
© POWERleap


IG: There are two aspects that I find really interesting of POWERleap. One is the idea of generating energy from natural human activities like walking and not from new layers of infrastructure. The second one is that once the energy is generated, the response is almost immediate. Can you talk a little bit about this?

ER: When I was originally working on POWERleap in school, I put a lot of thought into the conceptual aspects of the product. I called the movement ‘social responsibility’, where people had to take responsibility for their actions that affect the planet. POWERleap helps people do that. As long as city dwellers participate in public spaces by walking to work, taking the train (or being active where POWERleap is in place) they have done their part in producing some of the electricity they consume each day. This to me is very important about the product and will remain a part of our marketing pitch and company image throughout our life. People seem to find it really exciting that they can directly take part in this alternative power generation. The amount generated might not have a huge impact on the grid load at the onset, but it will change the way people think about electricity and that is a very important step!

IG: It seems that POWERleap could easily be incorporated to new construction areas. How easy would it be to retrofit existing sidewalks or buildings?

ER: We have explored a lot of ideas. Today, due to the limitations of the technology, it has to take shape of a rigid tile, but eventually I would like POWERleap to be a mat that you could just roll out onto sidewalks as a retrofit. As for retrofitting buildings, POWERleap is something that could go under any existing flooring. If carpet tiles are already in place and not permanently tacked down, POWERleap could be placed underneath them. This goes for any non-permanent flooring. It would be a shame to put POWERleap generators on top of beautiful existing flooring and require a new surface to go on top, so our goal is to be able to replace flooring that can be pulled up and put on top of the generators.We are currently designing generators that can be add-ons to existing access floor products as well.

IG: What are the first price estimates that you are working with per square foot?

ER: Our target price range is $50-100 per square foot. However, we hope to be able to create a product that is cheaper than that in 2011 and beyond.

IG: What are the challenges and opportunities that you see ahead?

ER: As you can imagine, when I start thinking about the opportunities ahead, I can hardly sit still. There are so many features that we look forward to introducing and are already developing, such as occupancy detection for security and green building automation, data tracking for retail sites, and sensing for intelligent traffic flow in vehicular applications. Truly, the opportunities are limitless.


Elizabeth Redmond is the founder, president, and director of product development at POWERleap Inc. Prior to founding POWERleap Inc. in Fall of 2008, she was a partner in Ecolect- a sustainable materials and design consultancy for industries across the globe. Elizabeth graduated from the University of Michigan in 2006 with a BFA from the School of Art and Design. | @powerleaper

Iker Gil is an architect, urban designer, and director of MAS Studio. In addition, he is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the School of Architecture at UIC. He is the recipient of the 2010 Emerging Visions Award from the Chicago Architectural Club. | @MASContext

Lanai Networks


Hawaiian Islands © NASA


Landscape architect Marcel Wilson explains the history, challenges and opportunities that Lanai Island in Hawaii is facing.


Uninhabited until the 1500’s, Lanai was purchased in 1922 by James Dole and it became the world’s foremost grower and exporter of pineapples. Managing a plantation of over 200,000 acres of pineapple fields, the Dole Pineapple Company built Lanai City and its energy grid of above ground transmission lines and structures to support their operations. To recharge the ground water aquifer, the company planted millions of Cook Island Pines that condense fog as it passes over the island surface. Today, the pineapple industry has left the island and its current owners, Castle and Cooke, are engaged in the process of modifying the ecology of the island by creating new resources in the form of landscapes, water, and energy to support a new economic model for its growth. economy. Landscape architect Marcel Wilson explains the history, challenges and opportunities that this singular island is facing.


The Hawaiian islands have bubbled up over millions of years as the Pacific plate passed over the thin spot in the earth’s mantle that volcanologists call the “Hawaiian hot spot”. Ridge lines and high elevations divide the main populated islands into windward and leeward sides, except for Lanai. While the windward sides of the other islands receive the trade winds and associated rainfall, Lanai has relatively low elevations, its ridgeline is more parallel to the winds, and it is in the rain shadow of Maui and Molokai. This combination of climatic and geomorphic factors has resulted in significantly fewer natural resources on the island of Lanai, and its own distinct sublime beauty.

The character of Lanai is rugged. It has vast planes of volcanic soil and low elevations. It is dominable in comparison to the other islands endowed and conflicted with extreme topography and natural wonders such as volcanoes, endless wide beaches, natural harbors, or waterfalls. As a result it has not attracted a diversity of private development. Instead it has been owned by one owner at a time, and infused with investment capital. With complete control of the land, different owners have had the latitude to augment or replace the island’s natural systems to create resources for food, water, energy, and exports. Technology has played an instrumental role in supporting the island economy, and infrastructure on Lanai is evolving from rudimentary systems that simply support industry, to sophisticated networked systems that support life and industry on Lanai and other islands as well. This account of its industrial history and current conditions suggests that Lanai is an early indicator of the challenges and strategies that will evolve as the State of Hawaii transitions to a post foreign oil economy into an era of sharing resources among the islands like the mainland United States shares between individual states.


Past: Exile to Industry

Hawaiian legend tells the stories of the island being infested by evil spirits until the great Maui Chief Kakaalaneo exiled one of his sons to the island as punishment. Eight miles across the Maui channel on Lanai, his son Kauluaau rid the islands of its evil spirits and made it safe for the people of Maui to visit and eventually settle on the island. Fish farming and modest agricultural projects were necessary for early settlers, and began the pattern of creating resources for survival. Slowly the island attracted missionaries, scientific researchers, explorers, and eventually the practice of cattle ranching was drawn to the expansive plains of low-growing vegetation.

In 1922, Jim Dole purchased the entire island for 1.1 million dollars and converted 15,000 acres for pineapple cultivation. The industry injected capital, infrastructure, and labor into what was previously raw land on a gamble that the vertical integration of pineapple cultivation and processing would give the enterprise a strategic advantage in the canned fruit industry. In time the agricultural venture grew to become the world’s largest pineapple plantation.

This massive gamble of converting raw land into a factory for pineapple production was made possible by technological innovation. In 1913 Dole invested in the Ginaca machine, a device that could peel and core 35 pineapples per minute. Previously this labor was done by hand, and the cost of pineapple was pegged to this tedious process. With the Ginaca machine, supply became the limiting factor and it drove the need for land and expansion.



Ginaca machine © Castle and Cook


Dole was a patron of new technology as many captains of industry were at the time. Inspired by Charles Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic flight, he sponsored the Dole Air Race in 1927 and put up $35,000 in prize money for the first pilots to travel the 2,800 miles from Oakland, California, to Honolulu. Eight teams attempted the challenge, only 2 were successful. Aviation was in its infancy, and Dole was clearly speculating on its potential to create access to the Hawaiian Islands and increasing the range of his investments.

Pineapple cultivation is hard, dirty, physically grueling work. It is labor intensive, and is commercially grown in southern latitudes. In 1920, before affordable air travel and the global shipping industry, pineapple was exotic to mainland markets and a profitable venture. The value of canned pineapple drew waves of imported laborers to the island of Lanai from Korea, the Philippines, Japan, China, and Portugal. This industry and its workforce drove the technological and infrastructural investment in the island, increased the demand for resources, and furthered the set of practices that created resources on the island to be converted into energy and exports.

The Dole Corporation built the plantation town of Lanai City, and a power grid to supply the buildings and the pineapple processing operations. Wood framed and clad buildings painted a uniform deep green were laid out on a basic grid. Pine power poles and wires line the streets and distributed energy generated from petroleum. The power infrastructure is still in use today. It is raw, durable, stout, and exposed for easy access. Roads were cut into the red volcanic soil for the operations of the pineapple industry: transporting labor, moving goods and machinery, distributing resources, and maintaining the infrastructure. Large mammal species were introduced as a source of protein for workers engaged in the hard labor associated with the continuous production of pineapple. The Axis deer, originally a gift to King Kamehameha from the King of India, was introduced on the island in 1920’s. Moufflon sheep, pheasant, wild turkey, feral pig, feral goat, and pronghorn antelope have all been introduced on the island with varying degrees of success, failure, and destruction to the native vegetation.



Hawaiian Islands © Castle and Cook


Perhaps the most visible and transformative infrastructure introduced by the pineapple industry is the distinctive Cook Island pines that line the streets of Lanai City, span the ridge tops of the mountains, and dot the landscape in strategic phalanx exposed to the prevailing winds. The pines are native to Polynesia, and can grow to a mature height of over 130 feet. They were introduced to augment the water systems, and recharge the ground water aquifers by condensing fog as it passes over the low elevations of the island. Today the pines remain and are estimated to contribute 50% of the island’s fresh water resources.

The pineapple industry and ranching dominated the island economy, changed its hydrology, and augmented its ecology with alien plant and animal species in a production scheme that merged the islands natural resources and arable lands into a part biological and part industrial machine for the production and export of the exotic fruit. The culture of the island was an eclectic mix of ethnicities installed, housed, sustained, managed, and supported by one company that dominated the pineapple industry for much of the last century.



Newspaper article from 1926 establishing Lanai as the pineapple kingdom © Castle and Cook


In December of 1991 the Dole Packaged Foods company laid off 500 workers. By 1990 Hawaii’s share of the global pineapple market had shrunk to 10%. By contrast, Thailand was producing 40 percent of the world’s pineapple supplies. At that time a picker in Hawaii was making $8.23 an hour, and a picker in Thailand was making $6 per day. The Ginaca machine shifted the investment of human energy from processing to cultivation labor. Global economic forces undercut the cost of labor and moved the industry to another continent.

There is an inverse correlation between the decline in the pineapple industry and the rise of the tourism industry in Hawaii. In 1955 the tourism industry for the islands produced $55 million in revenues, while pineapple production was more than $110 million and provided 12,000 jobs. By 1990 the pineapple industry produced $215 million in revenue and 3,450 jobs, while the tourism industry surged to a 9.4 billion dollar industry for the Hawaiian islands. Jim Dole’s side interest in creating access to the islands through aviation converged with shifts in global produce markets to make the pineapple industry in Hawaii obsolete.


Present: Hydro / Electric Tourism

Today, 98 percent of Lanai is owned by Castle & Cooke Inc., a Los Angeles based real estate company that bought out Dole in 1961. The company is run by the self-made billionaire David Murdock. Under Murdock’s direction the company is setting out to create a more authentic Hawaiian experience stepping away from the proven Hawaiian “fantasy” tourism model. Similar to Dole they are the dominant employer on the island, and are engaged in the process of modifying the ecology of the island by creating new resources in the form of landscapes, water, and energy to support a new economic model for its growth.



Fallow pineapple field showing traces of early infrastructure © Castle and Cook


Castle & Cooke began its transformation of the island by shutting down the pineapple industry. Thousands of acres bare the traces of pineapple cultivation in fallow fields and exposed red earth. They built a new water system, spent $50 million on subsidized housing, and have attempted to create local goodwill by building a new recreation center for residents. The company has built two luxury resorts and golf courses managed by Four Seasons Hotels. One is at the base of the mountains, and one is at the ocean. Land has been subdivided, and horizontal infrastructure has been laid for private home construction. These are luxurious tourism infrastructures with sprawling grounds, championship golf courses, and gardens that are designed to draw international capital to the remote island that is in competition with the resorts of Oahu, Hawaii, and Maui. To date Castle & Cooke has invested over 1 billion dollars the island. They have lost at least 20 million dollars per year since 2006.

To create a distinct brand for the island experience, Castle & Cooke is converting and marketing the resources of the pineapple industry for use in the new era of tourism. Predictably, the charm of the plantation town vernacular architecture will be co-opted for the architectural theme of new commercial development in Lanai City. Roads cut for access to pineapple fields are now four-wheel-drive roads for rental jeep adventure excursions beyond the resorts. And the populations of birds and large mammals that were introduced on the island as a protein source are now managed populations that are marketed to sportsmen for hunting and adventure expeditions. Fallow pineapple fields are now grazing lands for the herds of axis deer whose large antlers make impressive Trophies. Water resources for pineapple irrigation are now supporting recreation landscapes like golf courses, and scenery. And the ubiquitous Cook Island pines continue to be passive infrastructure for replenishing the fresh water aquifers. They have also become an icon for the Island brands and experiences. There is a grouping at the entry to the airport. Small ones line the roads to the beach resort. Mature ones line the road to the mountain resort. They are the logo on the golf towels.



4 wheel drive adventure outing on former roads cut for pineapple field access © Castle and Cook


Deer hunting © Castle and Cook


Manele Golf Course, an irrigated recreation landscape inserted into native forest © Castle and Cook


While the island as a destination is not patterned on the Hawaiian fantasy resort model according to Castle & Cooke, the design of the resorts is hardly expressive of this claim. Clearly driven by the appearance of luxury and exclusivity, they rely heavily on the image of the Hawaiian fantasy vacation in the lush tropics of a windward location, when they are located on the island with the fewest water resources. To create this marketable illusion they rely on robust irrigation systems, the full capability of the islands water systems, and energy to extract and distribute the water.

Lanai has five water systems wholly owned and operated by subsidiaries of Castle & Cooke. There are 78 miles of active pipeline (by comparison the island has 30 miles of paved roads), 4.8 million gallons of potable storage tanks, and 38 million gallons of non potable storage including water features at the resorts. It is a huge system that only serves about 1,500 customers. The metered demand for the customer base is 1.66 million gallons per day. 1.1 million gallons (68%) is used for irrigation. Castle & Cooke projects that demand will reach as much as 7 million gallons per day, the equivalent of the maximum output by all of the water sources on the island. To meet these future demands there are a limited number of new water production alternatives for the island. Among them are desalination of brackish water or sea water, and pumping from new wells, both of which require steady sources of energy. The projections for future water use suggest that their development strategy will continue to rely on the practice of modifying the ecology of the island with scenic and recreation landscapes for tourism, that are run on water and energy.



Resort with an irrigated scenery © Castle and Cook


Their first capital investment in energy supply for the island is a solar farm of 7,400 panels that cover a 10-acre site. The array will supply 30% of the island’s current peak energy demand, and is part of a larger plan to make the island’s energy supply entirely renewable by 2020. It is a state of-the-art facility that uses sun tracking technology which creates greater power production out of fewer panels in less land area. Every panel can be remotely controlled from 50 miles away at the county power authority center on the island of Maui.



Solar farm in Lanai © Castle and Cook


Future: Networked Resources

The next phase of energy and economic development will create an export commodity- wind energy. It will develop an untapped resource on the island and sell the energy to Oahu, the largest power user in the state. Castle & Cooke will use the profits to further develop water, power, and infrastructure on Lanai. The geography of Lanai creates tremendous wind energy potential. Trade winds from the east are funneled through the channel between Molokai and Lanai, accelerating speed and focusing their energy as it reaches the northwest point of the island. Wind analysis in combination with its accessible topography makes it one of the best sites for wind energy in the state. In 2011 Castle & Cooke will begin building a $750 million power project and erect 200 windmills on 12,000 acres. The energy will be conveyed in a submarine cable to Oahu, 70 miles away. Castle & Cooke sees the compromise of a small portion of Lanai’s scenic beauty as the way for the development of the island to not be entirely reliant on real estate to generate capital.

Even though most of the island residents work for Castle & Cooke, there is an organized local resistance to this plan that is partly rooted in the opinion that a wind farm will ruin the scenic beauty of the island. This is a criticism that has been directed at other Castle & Cooke projects, and part of a larger skepticism of the intentions of Castle & Cooke and CEO David Murdock. While they do not own the land, residents of the island understandably question the intent of a single company that has in a short period of time changed the economy and ecology of the island in the name of preserving its character. From Castle & Cooke’s perspective, Lanai is a sizeable but fledgling investment in a massive portfolio of business holdings. With control of all of the land, they are accelerating the development curve to convert resources, embed new technology and infrastructure in the landscape, and create an export commodity in the form of wind energy to fund their investment and the Lanai economy.

It is unlikely that the pace and tact of global scale capital investment will mesh on all points with the mindset of island life. Lanai is a commodity to one and a religion to the other. If they can be aligned on the issue of energy, it will be on the statewide initiative to achieve 70% clean energy sources by 2030. Currently, 90% of Hawaii’s energy comes from imported oil.

The State as a whole is rich in potential renewable resources- sun, wind, water, and geothermal resources all exist, but they are dispersed. No one island can provide for all its modern needs. As a state they have to invest in technology, develop resources, and share between the islands to end their dependence on imported oil. Resolving the issues involved in scenic value as a tourist commodity, the proximity of users to resources, and networks for distribution will be on ongoing debate in the process.



Lanai networked resources © NASA / Marcel Wilson


Marcel Wilson is a licensed landscape architect. His design practice Bionic, is based in San Francisco, Ca. He teaches graduate level studios at the University of California at Berkeley, and is a former principal at the internationally renowned landscape architecture firm Hargreaves Associates. Marcel graduated with distinction from The Harvard Design School where he was awarded the prestigious Weidenman Prize for design excellence.

Prelinger Archives

A is for Atom
© Prelinger Archives


Films from the Prelinger Archives showing the type of energy and ideals that the United States had during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s


Discover the type of energy and ideals that the United States had during the 1930s, 40s and 50s. They are invaluable documents that show the economic and political situation of that period, the social values, and the enormous pride for the achievements.


A IS FOR ATOM (1953)










Prelinger Archives was founded in 1983 by Rick Prelinger in New York City. Over the next twenty years, it grew into a collection of over 60,000 “ephemeral” (advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur) films. In 2002, the film collection was acquired by the Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. Prelinger Archives remains in existence, holding approximately 4,000 titles on videotape and a smaller collection of film materials acquired subsequent to the Library of Congress transaction. Its goal remains to collect, preserve, and facilitate access to films of historic significance that haven’t been collected elsewhere.

Case Study #1 | Ecoboulevard Vallecas


Ecoboulevard Vallecas
© Ecosistema Urbano


A project by Ecosistema Urbano


ARCHITECT: Ecosistema Urbano

LOCATION: Vallecas, Madrid, Spain

YEAR: 2007

STATUS: Completed

CLIENT: Land and Housing Municipal Company, Madrid Council, Directorate of Residential Projects Innovation


The proposal for the Ecoboulevard of Vallecas can be defined as an operation of urban recycling that consists of the following actuations: the installation of three social revitalizing air-trees placed along the existing urbanization, the densification of trees within their existing concourse, the reduction and asymmetric disposition of the traffic routes, and superficial interventions within the existing urbanization (perforations, backfill, paint, etc.) that achieve reconfiguration of the executed urban development.

Three pavilions or air trees function like open structures to multiply resident-selected activities. Installed in the non-city as temporary prostheses, they will be used only until air-conditioned spaces are no longer needed, when the area becomes “fixed”.

When a sufficient amount of time has passed, these devices should be dismantled, leaving remaining spaces that resemble forest clearings. The air tree is a light structure, easily dismantled and energetically self-sufficient, that only consumes what it is capable of producing by means of systems designed to capture and use solar photovoltaic energy.




Ecosistema Urbano is an innovative agency focused on the understanding of the city as a complex phenomenon, from a special point of view between architecture, urbanism, engineering and sociology. The team’s field of interest is defined by something they call ‘creative urban sustainability’, from where to react to the present situation of cities through innovation, creativity and particularly action. | @ecosistema

Case Study #2 | Public Farm 1


Public Farm 1
© WORK ac


A project by WORK Architecture Company


ARCHITECT: WORK Architecture Company

LOCATION: New York City, NY

YEAR: 2008

STATUS: Completed

CLIENT: Museum of Modern Art / P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Young Architect Program

SIZE: 1,000 sm


Built in the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center’s courtyards as a backdrop to its Warm Up! Music series, the temporary installation introduced a quarter acre fully functioning urban farm in the form of a folded plane made of structural cardboard tubes. At once intimate, playful and monumental, PF1 combines infrastructure with public space, engaging the visitor to re-imagine the city’s infinite possibilities.

Built entirely of biodegradable and recyclable materials, PF1 was powered by solar energy and irrigated by a rooftop rainwater collection system that kept the project off the city’s grid. Throughout the summer, the farm produced over 50 varieties of organic fruit, vegetables and herbs that were used by the museum’s café, served at special events, and harvested directly by visitors.

As a live urban farm, PF1 was a testament to the possibilities of rural engagement in urban environments and proposed that cities be reinvented to become a more complete and integrated system capable of producing their own food, producing their own power and re-using their own water while creating new shared spaces for social interaction and public pleasure.




WORKac is a New York based firm that strives to develop architectural and urban planning projects that engage culture and consciousness, nature and artifice, surrealism and pragmatism. WORKac is involved in projects at all scales, ranging from a masterplan for a new green city in Pingshan to a single family loft in Tribeca, NY | @Workac

Case Study #3 | Photovoltaic Canopy


Photovoltaic canopy
© Juan de Dios Perez


A project by Martinez Lapeña-Torres Arquitectos. Photographs by Juan de Dios Pérez.


ARCHITECT: Martínez Lapeña-Torres Arquitectos

LOCATION: Barcelona, Spain

YEAR: 2004

STATUS: Completed

CLIENT: Infraestructures de Llevant

SIZE: 4,500 sm


Designed by José Antonio Martínez Lapeña and Elías Torress, the 4,500 m2 photovoltaic canopy is a powerful addition to the industrial facilities that have always been present in this area of Barcelona.

Built in 2004 for the “Forum Barcelona 2004” event, it sits over a 14 ha esplanade shaped like an open hand that works as an extension of the Diagonal Avenue and covers a large part of a water treatment plant.

The canopy itself produces both energy and provides a shaded place in this otherwise hot and inhospitable area. The skewed plane, oriented south with a 30º inclination, is supported by four concrete twisted legs that stick out of the Sailing School underneath.




Martinez Lapeña-Torres Arquitectos is Barcelona-based architecture office founded in 1968 by José Antonio Martínez Lapeña and Elías Torres Tur. Among their best-known projects are the Vila Olímpica Housing Complex (Barcelona), the La Granja Escalator (Toledo), the Restoration of the Ronda Promenade in the City Walls (Palma de Mallorca), the Restoration of Gaudi’s Park Güell (Barcelona), and the Forum 2004 Esplanade and Photovoltaic Power Plant (Barcelona).

Juan de Dios Pérez is a photographer and professor in several photography schools in Barcelona. He has participated in numerous collective and individual exhibitions, including Amateur, Abtauchen, Memorias Anónimas, Sombras, and Territorios del Instante. He is a regular collaborator with publishers such as Santa & Cole and designers such as Mariona García. | @JuandDiosPerez

Case Study #4 | Powerplant


© realities:united


A project by realities:united


ARCHITECT: realities:united

LOCATION: Pasadena, California

YEAR: 2005

STATUS: On hold

CLIENT: City of Pasadena


Superimposing the remains of the old industries with a new, light and intelligent structure which bridges the gap between industry, nature and information technology, a new breed of Powerplants is spreading around the Glenarm Innovation Corridor in Pasadena, California.

Started in 2005 and currently on hold, this project includes slender stalks that reach about 55 ft into the sky, the same height as the famed palm trees of Southern California. Topped by a cylindrical light tube, the Powerplants sway gently in the air, emitting soft light signals powered by solar energy, stored during daytime. A multipart 2 phase stacked tube structure allows movements powered just by a light breeze and yet is strong enough to withstand storm and earth quakes.

Connected to each other via a wireless information grid, the Powerplants are programmed to exchange light impulses, create abstract light configurations or glow in unison. All Powerplants are physically independent from each other and electrically self-sustainable, without the need for wiring or other peripheral infrastructure. They can be ‘planted’ and ‘replanted’ in any given sequence and arrangement.




realities:united (realU)is a studio for art, architecture and technology founded by the brothers Tim Edler and Jan Edler in 2000. realities:united develops and supports architectural solutions, usually incorporating new media and information technologies. The office provides consulting, planning, and research, also undertaking projects for clients such as museums, businesses, and other architectural firms.

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