Any pedestrian who has braved the backstreets of Dubai knows two things: there are a lot of open spaces vying for attention and the sun is relentless. An independent researcher from Spain and a specialist in indexing and researching solar artwork, Nacho Zamora has recently traveled to Dubai in order to convince the municipality and Green Building Council to fill up these spaces with public art projects that also produce energy. Following the recent announcement that Dubai will consider purchasing energy from rooftop solar panels, which reveals a potential shift in the city’s eco-ethos, Zamora’s timing might just be spot on.
Beautifying dubious Dubai
It may be hard to imagine public art works in dubious Dubai, where shopping malls take on the appearance of grand cities filled with gold, jewel-encrusted shoes, and bespoke bottles of water, but Zamora sees past this facade and indeed hopes to humanize it with small scale works of art that simultaneously contribute clean energy.
Asked why he chose Dubai, of all places, to pursue this humanitarian mission, Zamora told us that the Emirate has perfect climatic conditions for solar power installations and urban spaces are almost empty of public art. Also, compared to the fiscal condition of many nations, Dubai appears to have the financial power to pursue the projects he envisions.
So what kind of art are we talking about?
“Yesterday I was visiting Masdar City and there was a machine that produces fresh air… why not build something like this which also enhances the artistic experience at the “pedestrian eye?” he asks, adding that “This is not science fiction, there are projects like this in other countries.”
The practical side of art
What will it take to convince Dubai – lover of all things grand and grander – that art of this nature is worthwhile? The design team who started the Land Art Generator Initiative convinced Abu Dhabi that energy generating art has both aesthetic and functional benefits, but they are focused on large scale installations that can feed copious quantities of energy back into the national grid.
Zamora, on the other hand, has set his sites on something more intimate. But not lofty. Recognizing the importance of showing Dubai’s movers and shakers that public art not only humanizes a park, a city, or an urban block, the Spanish researcher points out that architecture and art can attract people to those spaces that they might otherwise have sidestepped.
“I always think of the Guggemheim Museum of Bilbao,” Zamora tells us in an interview. “If you ask people, I can ensure you that 80% are visiting the museum because the architecture of the museum itself, not for the artistic exhibition inside.”
Humanizing the Burj
He is also working ahead of time. Even though Dubai is presently unfriendly to pedestrians, Zamora hopes to convince leaders that it is necessary to prepare for the future when there will be less energy available to power vehicles and when air quality will have reached new lows.
The city needs to have “More public transport, more attractive pedestrian paths, and more green zones,” he says.
He hasn’t been in Dubai long so he is just beginning to get a sense of urban topography, but we couldn’t resist asking Zamora where he might consider installing the first solar artwork?
“I would choose the huge public space that is surrounding the Burj Khalifa and Emaar Boulevard,” he said. “These are places which need (in my opinion) some kind of structure that could provide shade to pedestrians (there are a lot of tourists).”
“Definitely I would choose these two places.”
If you would like to see examples of extraordinary solar art projects around the world in order to get a sense of what might be heading Dubai’s way, visit Nacho Zamora’s mini-database of projects at www.solarartworks.com.
images courtesy of Nacho Zamora.
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