Archive for November, 2007

Off-The-Grid Tree: Monument + Mundanity

Sunday, November 18th, 2007

The project brief was to create a replacement monument to the Alamo, a.k.a the Astor Place cube.


This was of-course fictional but the purpose was to get us in the mode of preparing documentation and fine-tuning our presentation for an actual proposal. There were to be many critique of our work, which in turn should help us support our thesis is you will.

Anyway, I went out with a fellow student, Yan Yan, and we observed the the life and interaction of and around the Cube. Here’s what we observed on this gloomy day:

The Alamo sits at a major traffic crossroads in this part of the city with other now iconic building. We have Cooper Union, K-mart, and now Chase bank and the high rise which sits on top. This of course produces more foot traffic along with other nearby location points. NYU, Barnes & Nobles, etc..
What I also observed was that there was no limit to who interacted with the Cube. Daily you would find kids turning the cube, even the suits, grandparents, the Southern bells, all took part in turning the cube. One would ask why? What did they get form this act? I mean, you have to cross the street into this open and flat all concrete micro-park, then with all your strength, turn it around a few times. then you leave. Is it because it was there? Was this a notion of “Build it and they will come”? Not to repeat Kevin Costner’s ‘Field of Dreams’ line… Well, they come, they turn, they even sometimes hang out. There’s the occasional defacing and pranks, for example the famous rubiks cube prank:

cube prank

This got me thinking about what else can this area give us. It so happen to be a bit cold and windy and then the eureka moment hit me. How about wind energy? Should I make a monument which conveys wind energy awareness? And if would how?
My next step was to gather wind data for Astor Place. So far in my research I came up with nothing! how was I suppose to present wind energy awareness. I took a step back and researched more and I revamped my approach. instead of just the wind energy concept I used the term most widely used ‘Renewable Energy‘. So what is renewable Energy? It’s Energy that effectively utilizes natural resources such as Sunlight, Wind, Tides, and Geothermal-heat…




Renewable energy have been around for many hundreds of years. Think of sail ships which uses wind, for example. but with modern day Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Energy most of us in modern living cannot imagine life without them. But with the strain on the environment and the now present Global Warming organizations have been looking at how to utilize renewable energy sources and bring it to the masses. It’s still a tough PR move given that some if not most, don’t want to sacrifice comfort for the sake of the planet.
I started thinking of trees and how the continue to serve us in many ways. Trees provide vital Oxygen, some provide food, they provide shade and beauty. It also keeps the dirt on hills from sliding and are sometimes the means of construction and heat. But I wanted to use wind with the trees. What I came up with was an Wind driven LED lamp system, where hundreds of LED wind turbines will replace the leaves of the tree. As the wind blows it will light up the LED’s, cause and effect. I did some research and came across Jason Bruges Studio - Wind-To-Light Installation


I was inspired by how those tiny turbines powered the LED’s producing a firefly like effect. i even worked with a pinwheel attached to a motor attached to an LED. It worked but required lots of tinkering.

Ok, so I wanted to convey to anyone passing by that there’s this energy we sometimes take for granted. Of course there would be times when there would be little wind, thus no light. So the tree only comes alive with this renewable (wind) energy.

I also wanted to play with sound, again using wind as the driving force. In discussions in class wind chimes came up - thanks Marina. The great thing about wind chimes is that the sound can be tuned to be melodic, pleasing to the ear. It also cuts through existing sounds in the surroundings. It get really loud when there’s traffic, people and vehicles, and particularly after it rains. researching wind projects I came across the Singing Ringing Tree: by Tonkin Liu.

wind tree

What a great project and undertaking, and the tree concept lives on.

I also looked into many wind chime sounds. Here’s one example:

I decided on very small wind chimes would be hung from the branches. With little wind the wind-chimes will still sound off.
Simple huh? Not so for it begged the question, how will people be aware or become aware? I still don’t have a solid answer for this but I do believe that over time people will notice the staggering nature of the lights and sounds, and would match it with the conditions of the day - windy or not. There would also be seating at the base of the tree so that one can rest in the shade or led-lights (LED starlights). Sitting there they should become aware… But the real answer will be at to actually build it - They might come.

One argument was whether there should be interaction with the tree to produce energy or not. I am still in the fence with this. One inspiration I had of interactivity was from a Thesis project from a former Student Lief Mangelsen’s Krinkle-O-Tron. An LED column and slit-scan projection driven by human powered razor scooters.

Great work but I somehow feel it would be misleading the the awareness of off-the-grid. Please comment if you feel different.

Anyway, the feedback/critique in class was very rewarding. It made me think of what I need to do to make the presentation and concept stronger. How to deal with tough questions and helped me stay strong with this notion of ‘Build it and they will come’.

I look forward to your comments.


Materials - Orange Peel

Friday, November 16th, 2007

After last class I was sure that I would not blog that session. In my zest to stay away from the norm I totally failed to convey my point to the class. But now for me I think I will blog for my future reflections.

While most people presented really amazing material concepts, I decided to use natural grown fruits consisting of Oranges, Limes and Onion shoots.


Inspired by Eva Hesse’ work with latex which changed over time, I wanted to illustrate art and crafts which decay and or transform in a rapid succession. My goal was to take a time-lapse of the decaying artwork over a course of a week, but reflecting on how my presentation went, I killed it. Regretfully!

In any case I did take some other pics, so I hope you the reader get the concept I was trying to convey.

As you can see I cut out the skins off the oranges in the shape of flowers an, which were then extended by the onion shoots as the stems. The oranges were thick and needed a slight bit of care to peel without much distortion.


Next I peeled the the limes in pieces and I made a bug and a snake.


the result is a picture of a garden with two flowers, a snake and a bug. The narrative of the scene; the snake, which have been hiding in the fallen petals of the flower is camouflaged and is making it’s way close to the flower where the bug will eventually land.


This is the cycle of life, and like all natural organic matter (materials I will call them), they decay and replenish the earth, thus continuing the cycle. The materials used to illustrate will also continue the cycle.

But let’s look at organic materials a bit more. Think of Cotton; it comes from a plant. We process, weave and make clothing and other garments with cotton. Reference to how cotton is made.

Also think about Silk which is spun from the cocoon of the Silk worm. Silk ref.

How about animals! We all know about leather, snake-skin, alligator skin, goat skin, and now eco-friendly Fish skin Hand bags, Wallets and Bikini’s: ( Handbags ref1, Bags ref2, Bikini’s ref3 ).

Back to the skin of fruits as materials, I did find some works which specifically uses the skin of and/or scent of oranges.

Orange peel Carpet:

Jan Hopkin’s artwork with Orange Peel


One more thing; Where I grew up we used natural plant leaves for holding food and cooking. The dried green orange skin we use as a form of tea when boiled. You can taste the orange flavor and the dried peel last for weeks if not months. We use the leaves of banana plants to wrap flower and berries and place in a boiling pot. Simple uses of Banana Leaves.

I hope at least this was educational and that maybe we can look deeper into the old word for newer sources of materials and more.

Forgot to add this link:
MSE - Materials Science and Engineering