Art, in its many shapes and sizes, is particularly appreciated for its beauty and the emotions it stirs up. What makes any particular piece of art into a masterpiece, however, is the level of honesty that’s been infused into it by its creator. It is then up to us to see and appreciate it. Now, for all that art can give us, some say that it doesn’t really offer any utilitarian use. And here’s where “practical art” comes into play.
This is when an artistic project also serves us, or in this case, the environment, by not just focusing on the aesthetics but instead blending the visual and the utilitarian together. In a world where we can no longer afford to be wasteful, combining two or more purposes into one thing should become the norm, and these artistic projects are doing just that.
10. Oscillating Platforms
Somewhat reminiscent of upside-down ship hauls, Oscillating Platforms are the design of Felix Cheong from Toronto, Canada. What these platforms are able to achieve, beyond looking pretty, is to turn both wind and wave energy into electricity. Being stationary and docked along a pier, these Oscillating Platforms allow for visitors to get on in order to relax and meditate while gazing at the ocean. But while this is happening, the platforms are constantly generating electricity. The mast and sail are there to catch the prevailing winds, gently rocking the platform back and forth, and acting as a sort of oscillating water column.
The energy of the waves, along with the motion generated by the wind and the people walking on the deck, causes the air trapped inside the belly of the platform to be forced through a turbine. When water recedes away, air is drawn back in through the exposed top of the water column. This gentle back and forth motion causes the platform to constantly generate electricity. In a sense, one could compare this alternating movement to a person breathing. Others, on the other hand, could say that these Oscillating Platforms are a prettier alternative to offshore wind farms, let alone a diesel-powered generator.
9. The Skygarden
By taking to heart the old saying that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” a team of Dutch architects has managed to take a 3,225-foot-long section of abandoned highway in Seoul, South Korea, and turn it into an elevated walkway, completely covered in vegetation. Known as The Skygarden, or Seoullo 7017 in South Korea, this once derelict piece of infrastructure now serves a renewed purpose. Not only does it change the way people move around the city, it does it in such a way so as to give the passersby a sense of serenity while doing so. There are a total of 24,000 individual plants, spanning over 228 species and subspecies, all native to South Korea. They are all placed in different-sized containers and at different heights, so as to offer shade while not actually obstructing the view. “Our design offers a living dictionary of plants which are part of the natural heritage of South Korea and now, existing in the city center,” said Winy Maas, one of the architects. “The idea here is to connect city dwellers with nature, while at the same time also offering the opportunity of experiencing these amazing views to the Historical Seoul Station and Namdaemun Gate.”
The many plants are arranged in family groups, each of which is then further organized in the Korean alphabetical order. This makes the Skygarden, as Winy Mass said, into a living dictionary. This particular arrangement also allows for the walkway to change more drastically throughout the seasons. This means that during fall, the maple tree section is particularly vibrant, while in spring the cherry blossoms take center stage. Along the Skygarden, people can stop and admire the scenery wherever they want, but also have the option of stopping at the many art galleries, tea houses, restaurants, and cafes along the way.
8. Warka Water
Warka Water is the simple yet elegant idea of two Italian designers to bring fresh water to parts of the world that are suffering from a lack of it. Ethiopia is one such place, and many women in this part of the world have to trek for many miles each and every day to collect drinking water. This water is oftentimes dirty and shared with all sorts of animals, domesticated or otherwise. Warka Water works by making use of condensation. It’s nothing more than a 30-foot-tall bamboo tower, lined with a special polyethylene fabric that’s capable of trapping tiny water droplets straight from the atmosphere, and then funneling it into a container at the bottom. Each of these towers is capable of generating roughly 26 gallons of water per day, even in the driest of climates. With several of these towers, a small village would be able to produce all its water needs – literally out of thin air.
Another important fact about these Warka Water pillars is that they only weigh 130 pounds and can be assembled by only four people, without the need of any special tools, knowledge, or scaffolding. Several designs have been created, some of which are wider than others and able to provide shade for those around it. The name Warka comes from an Ethiopian tree which, for the people living there, symbolizes fertility and generosity, and is oftentimes used as a place for social gatherings.
7. The BVI Art Reef
Built to promote the growth of corals, the BVI Art Reef was born thanks in large part to an underwater photographer by the name of Owen Buggy. He came across a derelict WWII Navy fuel barge, known as the Kodiak Queen, and which took part in the attack on Pearl Harbor. This barge was scheduled to be scrapped, but after Buggy found out about its historical significance, he decided that it deserved a better fate. He brought his idea to philanthropist Richard Branson, who owns Necker Island, part of the British Virgin Islands, in the Caribbean. The two, alongside several other non-profit groups, decided that it’s better to sink the ship, but not before building an 80-foot mesh kraken on top of it. (Naturally.) After several years of careful planning and scouring the ocean floor for the perfect location, the project was finally ready.
The old ship, as well as the huge kraken that was sits on top as if it was the one that actually took the barge down to the bottom of the sea, will be the foundation on which a new coral reef will form, attracting, in turn, the entire underwater ecosystem that goes with it. The BVI Art Reef is open to all divers, marine scientists, and local students from the British Virgin Islands. “The BVI Art Reef gives us a unique platform to capture people’s attention on the importance of addressing ocean conservation and in particular, combat climate change, protect our coral reefs, and rehabilitate vulnerable marine species,” said Branson in an interview. “This is an incredible opportunity to create one of the most meaningful dive sites in the world.”
6. Beyond the Wave
Beyond the Wave is an artistic concept aimed particularly at Refshaleøen, an old industrial site, part of the harbor in Copenhagen, Denmark. When the shipyard went bankrupt back in 1996, the area became home to many creative entrepreneurs, small craftsmen, and flea markets. It also acts as a regular venue for various social events and music festivals. Now, even though Beyond the Wave could work in other places, Refshaleøen was initially chosen because of one key factor – the wind. The area is subject to an almost constant breeze coming in from the North Sea, making this place perfect for what this project has to offer. The idea is to make use of as many 50 to 80-foot-tall flexible piezoelectric poles as possible. These move in the wind and generate electricity through pressure.
Attached to these poles will be a series of 5-foot-wide ribbons that will flow in the breeze, creating the waves the project references in its name. These ribbons, too, have the power to generate electricity, since they’re made out of a transparent organic solar material. Together, the poles and the ribbons will act as a sort of fluid roof over the entire neighborhood. The electricity they generate will be used partially to illuminate the installation, as well as to heal the heavily polluted soil beneath. It will be able to achieve this via a process known as electro osmosis. This technique will be able to separate pollutants, such as heavy metals, from the other matter found in the ground.
5. The Exhale Chandelier
Chandeliers are almost always the centerpiece of every palace around the world. And even though palace life is not as it used to be, the chandelier has made a comeback. Here’s one that not only lights up the room, but also cleans up the air by absorbing CO2 and releasing oxygen. So, how does it work? As you can clearly see, the Exhale Chandelier, as it’s called, is green. And it’s green because it’s filled with algae. Julian Melchiorri is not only a designer, but also a leading biochemical technology researcher. Among various other projects, he was increasingly interested in how his research can be more easily applied to everyday life. And with this particular object, we could say that he achieved that goal.
The chandelier has a metal frame that’s entirely handmade, and which supports 70 different-sized leaf modules, displayed in a radial array. These can be rearranged to form many other shapes, giving it a wider versatility than the one presented. With it, Melchiorri also tried to mimic the symbiotic relationship found in nature, where one being’s waste is something else’s valuable resource. In this case, these algae offer us their exhaled oxygen in exchange for our exhaled CO2.
4. The Clear Orb
The Clear Orb is a conceptual design presented at the 2016 Land Art Generator Initiative Competition, with the purpose of aiding California with an annual influx of about 500,000 gallons of fresh water. Designed to be accessible from the Santa Monica Pier via the beach boardwalk, the Clear Orb will actually be located several hundred feet offshore. Seen from a distance, the huge sphere would look like it’s hovering just above the waterline. But once close, you’ll see that there’s actually a way to get there. Known as the “Contemplation Walkway,” the 1,000-foot-long path gradually descends to the point where you’d be below sea level.
The inner walls of the walkway will be covered in a list of all extinct animals, in an attempt at getting the visitors to be more considerate about their fellow inhabitants. The outer walls, on the other hand, will be able to harness the power generated by the waves and turn it into electricity. The sphere itself is 130 feet in diameter, and with the help of some solar contractors located on top, it’s able to pump seawater inside. Once there, it evaporates and condenses, thus turning into fresh, drinkable water. It’s then released through the bottom, cascading over the Orb’s supporting structure.
3. The Smog Free Tower
Beginning with a Kickstarter campaign, the Smog Free Tower is the brainchild of Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde. Standing at 23 feet, the tower is able to purify over a million cubic feet of air per hour, and runs on renewable wind energy. It first appeared in Rotterdam and then made a tour around China. And because of its minimalistic design, the Smog Free Tower is able to blend perfectly with an urban landscape. What it does best is to collect two certain types of pollutants, PM2.5 and PM10. This particle matter (PM) is a mixture of liquids and solids that come together to form tiny droplets that float in the air.
These can get into the lungs, causing all sorts of serious health problems. These microscopic particles are also the main cause for smog. The Smog Free Tower, however, is able to catch 75% of these. To make things even more interesting, the tower is also able to compress these particles and create pieces of jewelry from it. Roughly 35,000 cubic feet of filtered air is needed to produce one ring that can be then purchased by a passersby.
2. The Spiraling Treetop Walkway
Designed by EFFEKT architecture studio, the Spiraling Treetop Walkway will be one of Denmark’s newest acquisitions in 2018. The 130-foot-tall spiraling structure is basically an observation tower that will allow its visitors to observe a forest from a completely different perspective. It will start from the ground and will go all the way up, offering a more in-depth view at all the levels of the forest. Once at the very top, people will be presented with a 360 degree view that extends all the way out to sea. Being shaped, more or less, like an hourglass instead of a cylinder, it gives the walkway a more slender look overall, as well as greater stability and a larger observation deck at the top.
The reason behind its construction and the effects it can have the environment are not as straightforward as the other entries on this list. What it does, however, is to bring people back in contact with nature. While this might seem like something that’s not particularly useful in the greater scheme of things, the fact that we’re so disconnected with nature is the main reason why we’re so apathetic when it comes to matters such as deforestation, animal extinction, and the shifting climate.
1. Trash Animals
Now, for the last entry on this list, we’ve actually chosen to go with some street art. Designed and put together by Bordalo Segundo, these amazing street murals are scattered throughout his hometown of Lisbon, Portugal, and are collectively known as Trash Animals. The name was chosen because these giant murals are actually made out of trash Bordalo found on the streets of Lisbon. In Portugal, street art is not only allowed, but actually encouraged by the authorities.
Street art, as one local official puts it, is a means for the ordinary citizen to experience art without actually having to go to a museum or gallery to do so. Children, especially those living in inner-city neighborhoods, can become inspired by simply walking down the street. So, in other words, Bordalo Segundo’s Trash Animals not only help the citizens of Lisbon to get more in contact with art, but also raise awareness of the effects of climate change. And let’s not forget the fact that actual trash was used to make these murals – trash that would have otherwise made its way either at the dump or in the ocean.