You never know what kind of bold, bizarre and humanity-benefitting concepts the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) will yield.

After all, the LAGI is the force behind a biannual design competition — motto: “Renewable Energy Can Be Beautiful” — that in 2014 introduced the world to Energy Duck, a semi-terrifying, solar panel-clad bird-monster roughly the size of a tugboat.

Like in years past, LAGI 2016 aims to solicit "human-centered solutions" that marry site-specific public art with sustainable energy infrastructure. Bringing together the creative and scientific communities, LAGI fosters boundary-pushing Franken-projects that function as objects of beauty and awe while simultaneously providing cities with a source of clean energy.

To keep things fresh, LAGI functions as a transient competition, focusing on a different city or cities every other year. The inaugural 2010 competition revolved around a trio of sites in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. In 2012, the LAGI set its sights on the Big Apple, specifically on Staten Island's Freshkills Park, formerly home to the world’s largest landfill. In 2014, a ripe-for-redevelopment shipyard in Copenhagen — at the time, the Danish city was the reigning European Green Capital — played host to the international competition. (The aforementioned solar duck, by the way, tied for fourth place in that year’s competition).

The Los Angeles County beach town of Santa Monica is home to LAGI 2016. More specifically, the coastal waters around Santa Monica's iconic amusement pier have been selected as the competition's design site. As the LAGI explains: “Without a doubt, the LAGI 2016 design site offered the most versatile and amazing opportunity yet. Adjacent to one of the world’s historic cultural landmarks, and with the full power of the Southern California sun, the coastal winds, and the Pacific Ocean waves and tides, there is nothing to limit the imagination.”

The Pipe,The Pipe, Land Art Generator Initiative One part artwork, one part solar-powered desalination plant, The Pipe would supply Santa Monica with over a billion gallons of drinkable water per year. (Rendering: Land Art Generator Initiative)

And on the topic of waves, one finalist in this year’s competition has been making plenty of them: a tubular sculpture-cum-power plant floating off the 107-year-old Santa Monica Pier that would harness the power of the sun to produce an annual 1.5 billion gallons of clean drinking water via electromagnetic desalination. In total, the offshore installation, dubbed “The Pipe,” would generate 10,000 megawatt-hours of solar power per year.

Here’s the thing: for the first time, the LAGI has tweaked competition guidelines to allow for artistic proposals that don’t just produce renewable electricity. Given the ongoing drought in California and the threat of statewide water shortages, the 2016 competition also welcomed design proposals that generate drinking water — or, ideally, drinking water and renewable energy.

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.
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.

Submitted by the Vancouver, British Columbia-based consultancy Khalili Engineers, The Pipe — “a testament to our time that reminds us about our dependence on water and about our need to appreciate and value this vital gift” — fits this definition and then some.

The Pipe, Land Art Generator Initiative As a solar-powered desalination plant, The Pipe speaks directly to sustainability-minded Santa Monica's quest to become water-independent by 2020. (Rendering: Land Art Generator Initiative)

A bit on the nuts and bolts of the proposal, which wouldn’t simply look spectacular from afar — a glittering, glistening cannoli afloat in the Santa Monica Bay — but also be accessible to the public as a sort of offshore spa and education center:

Multiple pools of hot and cold, crystal-clear saltwater invite visitors to experience a ritual that takes them away from the stress of daily life. Relaxing on the pool deck, listening to the sound of the waves, and looking out to the ocean, visitors can be blissfully unaware of the seamless technology at work all around them.

Above, solar panels provide power to pump seawater through an electromagnetic filtration process below the pool deck, quietly providing the salt bath with its healing water and the city with clean drinking water. The Pipe represents a change in the future of water. Water never leaves our planet. Rather it is simply displaced.

Fresh water finds impurities and becomes temporarily unfit for consumption. These impurities can be visible or invisible. The visible particles can be filtered with basic procedures. It is the invisible impurities (dissolved solids) that make filtration complicated and costly.

Conventional desalination technology such as reverse osmosis uses excessive electricity, generates unwanted industrial waste and polluted water, and requires very expensive machinery.

Ninety-seven percent of seawater is pure water and only three percent is dissolved solids. All dissolved solids in water become ionized and can therefore be controlled through electromagnetic energy. Electromagnetic filtration uses an isolated electromagnetic field on pipes circulating seawater, separating the salts and impurities. The process is rapid and energy efficient.

The proposal goes on to explain that salt water with 12 percent salinity produced by The Pipe is used in its thermal baths before being pumped back into the Santa Monica Bay via a “smart release system." The proposal notes that the system "mitigates most of the usual problems associated with returning brine water to the sea."

The Pipe, Land Art Generator Initiative The team behind The Pipe explain that the design concept 'teaches us that water is plenty and nature provides. We just need to learn to work with it, keep it clean, and appreciate it.' (Rendering: Land Art Generator Initiative)

The billion-plus gallons of drinkable water produced at the offshore art installation each year would be distributed directly into Santa Monica’s municipal water supply.

Bounded by the Pacific Ocean and several different Los Angeles neighborhoods, the environmentally progressive and laidback-ish city best known for its bustling commercial promenade and "Baywatch" associations is striving to achieve complete water independence by the year 2020. While a sizable amount of Santa Monica’s water supply currently comes from groundwater wells within city limits, the rest is piped in from elsewhere. City leaders want to halt all water importation by further tapping into its existing groundwater supply — a supply compromised in the 1990s by underground gas storage leaks but since mitigated during an extensive cleanup effort — along with embracing aggressive wastewater recycling and rainwater harvesting efforts.

The Pipe would see an innovative form of desalination, the process of removing minerals from saltwater so that it's rendered fit for irrigation or human consumption, enter the picture as well.

Currently, there are numerous desalination plants scattered up and down the California coastline including a $1 billion facility located in San Diego County that’s billed as “the nation’s largest, most technologically advanced and energy-efficient seawater desalination plant.” That plant, located adjacent to the massive Encina Power Station in Carlsbad, went online in December 2015.

Of course, none of California’s existing desalination plants, however, would look — or function — like The Pipe.

Wave Up, Land Art Generator Initiative A particularly imaginative (and only slightly unsettling) LAGI 2016 proposal involves wave energy-harnessing 'salt swans.' (Rendering: Land Art Generator Initiative)

Other Santa Monica-centric proposals submitted to LAGI 2016 LAGI include “Ring Garden,” a colossal algae bioreactor that would serve as a dramatic counterpart to Santa Monica Pier’s solar-powered Ferris wheel. Another, titled “Big Beach Balloon,” envisions a massive helium balloon wrapped in thin-film photovoltaic panels that would be tethered to the Santa Monica Pier and, yep, allow for passenger rides. Gulp. As the proposal explains: “By connecting the pier’s amusement park character below with spectacular panoramic aerial views above, the design aims to celebrate Santa Monica’s glorious location, while seamlessly harnessing one of its most abundant resources, the sun.”

And because it just wouldn’t be a Land Art Generator Initiative competition without clean energy-producing water fowl, a Philadelphia-based team’s proposal, titled “Wake Up,” involves converting a fleet of retired swan boats into a robust network of wave energy converters that would help power Santa Monica Pier’s electricity-guzzling amusement park rides.

The winning proposal in the 2016 Land Art Generator Initiative competition will be announced in October with the first-place team receiving a $15,000 cash prize. You can read the competition brief in full here.

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Sun-powered desalination device transforms seawater into clean drinking water
Santa Monica's iconic amusement pier is the site of this year's Land Art Generator Initiative. The Pipe is an offshore desalination concept that's making waves.