LAGI Insights

By Elizabeth Monoian & Robert Ferry / Founding Directors, LAGI 26/09/2019


  • What is the inspiration for the book? The inspiration for the book stems from the original inspiration for the Land Art Generator Initiative itself. We founded LAGI while residing in the UAE in 2008, inspired by the beautiful landscape, the ambitious development projects, the thriving arts & culture scene, and the abundance of sustainable natural resources, such as solar energy, that enrich the UAE. We wanted to provide a global platform for the exploration of how a wide array of renewable energy technologies could be artfully integrated into cities in a way that could inspire people about the beauty of a world that has successfully transitioned to be in harmony with the planet and the natural carbon cycle of the earth’s atmosphere. What do our cities and landscapes look like when we have implemented the thousands of gigawatts of required capacity to drawdown our carbon footprint and is there an opportunity to use these technologies and the media for public art and creative placemaking? This question we asked ourselves in 2008 while based in the UAE has led us to a decade of work at the intersection of energy and human culture. Since the first LAGI design competition for the UAE in 2010, the project has traveled to cities around the world, continuing to reimagine what our clean energy landscapes can aspire to be if we consider them as cultural landmarks of the 21st century.

    The inspiration for the title is a reference to the story of Masdar and to the founding of LAGI a decade ago in the UAE. Masdar is the Arabic word for “source.” As the name of Abu Dhabi’s multifaceted renewable energy company and most ambitious low-carbon development, it is a reference to the sun, the source of energy that sustains life on Earth and drives the wind and waves. Over millions of years, the sun has powered the transfer of ancient carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and into the ground, creating the climate habitable to humans that we are placing in peril through the combustion of fossil fuels.


    “Source” also has meaning within the context of the Land Art Generator Initiative and LAGI 2019. We were returning to the place that had first inspired us in 2008 to launch a global design competition for renewable energy as public art.


  • How important is design to sustainability in the 21st century? Design touches upon every aspect of our world, especially the things that we often take for granted. Decisions that are made daily by designers have ripple effects on the carbon footprint of human civilization. This includes the design of the products (and packaging) that we use, from toothpicks to toasters, the design of public policies, the design of economic systems, the design of our systems of mobility, our systems of food production, the planning of our cities, and, of course, the design of our buildings, which account for 40% of greenhouse gas emissions. In order to meet the challenge of staying below 2 degrees C of global warming, it is critically important that designers today incorporate sustainability into every aspect of their thinking and at every stage in the design process, integrating clean energy generation, net-zero carbon materials, and zero-waste solutions into products, building facades, and long-term planning.


  • How can human culture realise change in terms of sustainable design and eco-friendly living?

    Sustainable design needs to respond to human culture, realizing that all communities require unique design solutions that respond to place, culture, and local environment. If we do not address the human element in our proposed solutions to the climate crisis, we risk alienating key stakeholders, slowing progress, and dividing society into camps of relative environmental activism. If instead, if we leverage the creativity of human culture in the advancement of technical solutions, we can inspire everyone about the greatness of a post-carbon world and bring about massive change.

    While our culture is a reflection of our energy use, the way that we decide to produce and consume energy is also a reflection of our culture. To change one is to change the other. Often the solutions to climate change and resource scarcity are framed as scenarios in which the act of energy transition drives cultural shifts (we will need to conserve energy, use less material, limit our lifestyles), but the key to success may lie in understanding that culture has its own agency. In this equation, culture leads and transition follows.

  • What do you believe are important design features needed for smart cities? Everywhere we look we see opportunities for the aesthetic integration of clean energy systems into the design of our cities. The technology that exists today makes it possible (and economical) to clad our buildings in solar panels of custom colors and shapes, to glaze every window opening with building-integrated solar glass. We can bring clean energy power plants to our public parks, waterfronts, and plazas in ways that tell stories, engage the public with technology, educate, and inspire. We can co-design community energy installations with the people who live with them and who benefit from the energy, empowering the previously marginalized, and expanding the population who are actively invested in a clean energy future. As much as possible, we should be turning consumers into prosumers, creating a smart, resilient, and interconnected network of energy nodes that can decarbonize our supply and make demand more efficient. The design of market incentives should tie the everyday economic choices that people make to the value of natural capital, carbon reduction, and ecosystem services.
  • How can design competitions like LAGI help raise awareness for cities to become more sustainable and generate clean energy?

We see the value in healthy competition to drive innovation. As more and more cities are able to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable and equitable development through high-profile projects that capture the public’s imagination, we will see a more rapid adoption and more aggressive integration of clean energy into the fabric of our cities. We will see a shift in popular opinion related to the implementation of these new technologies, from a position that is hesitant and unsure or “not-in-my-backyard,” to one filled with a sense of desire and longing.

At LAGI we invite interdisciplinary teams to develop creative solutions in a collaborative effort. Tens of thousands of designers and creatives, engineers and scientists, have participated directly in LAGI competitions. It is our hope that they will bring this way of thinking into their own work and that LAGI can be a seed that will grow to impact cities around the world in ways that we can’t yet imagine.




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