"The sustainable architectural culture that aspires the coexistence of human, nature and the architecture itself" is a core value of Heerim Architects and Planners in South Korea, the team behind a sparkling orb designed for Santa Monica Pier. A finalist in the biennial site-specific 2016 Land Art Generator Initiative design competition, which promotes the uptake of energy-generating public art that informs, delights, and uplifts communities and visitors, The Clear Orb reveals a playful approach to holistic design. Using transparent luminescent solar concentrators, the installation is purportedly capable of producing up to half-a-million gallons of fresh water each year for California.
“Now, more than ever, energy and water are intertwined. As California faces severe water shortages in the coming years, the amount of energy required for water production and transmission is sure to increase,” LAGI writes on their website about this year’s competition for Santa Monica Pier. “For this reason we expanded our definition of sustainable infrastructure artwork to include proposals in 2016 that produce drinking water—either in addition to, or in place of—clean electricity.”
The Clear Orb is designed to be accessible from the Santa Monica Pier via the beach boardwalk. The pathway to the gleaming sphere gently tips toward the water’s surface, the outer walls harvesting wave energy from the existing breakwater. The inner walls depict a list of animals that have gone extinct, inviting visitors to reflect on humanity’s impact on its fellow inhabitants.
About 130 feet in diameter, the glass orb’s surface is comprised of transparent solar concentrators that supply the energy required to circulate water into the Orb. Inside, a solar still converts seawater into fresh water through evaporation and condensation. The resulting clean water pours through a step fountain that supports the structure. The designers say this becomes “an artful interpretation of the power of light and water to give life.”
Energy produced by the oscillating water column along the “contemplation walk” would supply further power to the solar distillation pumps and the grid, though, compared to some of the other designs we’ve seen this year, such as The Pipe, the design’s energy and water production goals are relatively small. For example, The Pipe would be able to produce 1.5 billion gallons of water for Santa Monica, while The Clear Orb would only have capacity to generate 3,820 MWh solar energy to distill 500,000 gallons of water.
Still, if a primary goal of the design competition is to educate the community and visitors about sustainability, The Clear Orb definitely has potential to bring the conversation mainstream. A frequently-visited site, the Santa Monica Pier would be forever transformed with such a vibrant work of art – demonstrating that energy and clean water production can complement the city, both here and abroad.