On October 8th Rebecca Ansert, Founder of Green Public Art Consultancy, was invited to speak at the City of Austin’s Art in Public Places (AIPP) Symposium , OFF THE GRID: Recharging Public Art + Design. AIPP staff, Carrie Brown and Susan Lambe planned an informative and thoughtful program. The day was filled with interactive building workshops lead by Alex Gilliam of Public Workshop, a panel discussion about the future of Austin’s Seaholm District including several public art opportunities, a conversation lead by Rebecca Ansert about sustainable materials in public art, and a panel of enthusiastic community gardeners (Randy Jewart, Austin Green Art; Jake Stewart, Sustainable Urban Agriculture, City of Austin; and Jessie Temple, Festival Beach Community Garden) who are making huge positive impacts in neglected areas of Austin. The following was my contribution to the conversation of sustainable materials in public art and connecting those materials to LEED points.

Sustainable Materials in Public Art:

Easy entry points into using green materials

Environmental Graffiti

Paint with plants to create living walls

Sustainable Sites: Reduce the Heat Island Effect with creative paint schemes. LEED awards projects that reduce the urban heat island effect on the roof or non-roof surfaces. Molly Dilworth‘s Cool Water, Hot Island served as a temporary project designed to offer temporary relief to the hot asphalt of NYC’s Times Square.

Molly Dillworth, "Cool Water, Hot Island"

Commission artists to restore or protect native habitats and maximize or create better open space for a LEED point in the Site Development category. Gitta Gshwendtner‘s Animal Wall matches the number of new homes with about 1,000 next boxes made from custom woodcrete cladding.

Gitta Gschwendtner, "Animal Wall"

Water Efficiency: There are several artists working with stormwater and wastewater, many of which could contribute to the Innovative Wastewater Technologies LEED point category. Buster Simpson is renowned for his water-centric sculptures and his project Whole Flow relies non-toilet wastewater which is distributed to the top of the sculpture, is then aerated as it flows from one basin to the next and is finally retained in the basin before being distributed to the near by landscape.

Buster Simpson, "Whole Flow"

Jackie Brookner‘s Urban Rain makes the natural filtration process, which normally occurs underground, visible to the public.

Jackie Brookner, "Urban Rain"

Materials & Resources: It should go without saying now that if a project is intended to be green it should use recycled content, post-industrial or post-consumer recycled materials. Also, all materials should be sourced within 500 miles of the project site.

Artist Erwin Timmers collected glass from the demolition of a building on the project site, melted it and recast it into a new public artwork for the new building. This project could have potentially contributed to the Construction Waste Management LEED point which requires a diversion of construction waste from landfills towards recycling or reuse.

Erwin Timmers

Energy & Atmosphere: Artist team Didier Hess has been experimenting with a variety of materials and installation techniques at their non-profit Materials & Applications, located in Los Angeles. Two installations are focused on measuring elements in the atmosphere. The first, HouseSwarming, a temporary project, was designed to detect impurities in the air quality. The green nodes lit up and flashed as it detected more pollutants. The second, a permanent installation on a Firestation, detects levels of moisture in the air. The color of the hidden LEDs within each node will change in hue as the air becomes dry or humid. As a result the artwork will act as a visual awareness tool for the surrounding community.

Didier Hess

There is great potential for artists to use the following materials in projects to aid in the management of a building’s heat load.

Solar Glass


Artists are utilizing renewable energy in large scale public artworks. Harries Heder‘s Sunflowers, An Electric Garden contributes energy back into the grid. The greatest challenge with solar at the moment is the limitation in the shape of the panels.

Harreis Heder, "Sunflowers, An Electric Garden"

Temporary Solar Energy Project

Piksol will not be the most energy efficient material but they can collect energy at locations where otherwise no solar panels would be welcome for aesthetic reasons.


Innovation and Design: One of the most coveted point categories in LEED. Projects that include an educational outreach plan, making the building actively instructional are eligible for an ID LEED point. Tatfoo Tan worked with grade school children to re-appropriate the pledge of allegiance with a  green message which was then engraved in the entry way of their school.

Tatfoo Tan's "S.O.S. Pledge"

Artworks that introduce strategies which demonstrate quantifiable environmental benefits are eligible for Innovative Performance points. Matthew Mazzotta‘s Park Spark Project requires community participation from the community to deposit dog waste into a large container and crank the wheel to begin the methane digestion process which ultimately generates enough energy to illuminate the street lamp.

Matthew Mazzotta's "Park Spark Project" (L) and Freya Bardell and Marco Luyten's "Hot Air" (R)

The City of San Jose has challenged artists with the Climate Clock Initiative which tasks them to conceptualize a 100-year public art project to help measure climate change, make the process more visible and engage and inspire the community to personally explore their individual carbon footprints.

Climate Clock Initiative

Artist designed charging stations are our future such as Sol Design Lab's project on the left

Art that Works: At the top of each stack is a LED light fixture which changes color from blue-orange-red relative to the heat output of the plant.

False Creek Energy Centre

Piezoelectric technologies are being implemented all over the world. Toulouse, France installed trial tiles in the city center to generate electricity to run streetlights. Club Watt in the Netherlands is the first dance club to use the technology to light up their dance floor. In Tokyo, Japan the ticket booths are powered by piezoelectric. And supermarkets have installed piezoelectric into the speed humps in the parking lots which generate enough power for the checkout registers.

Piezoelectric Technology

Windstalk, an entry for the Land Art Generator Initiative's 2010 competition

The material used in Catalyst was originally developed for use on pavements in congested urban areas to improve air quality. Sunlight initiates a reaction where the active concrete surface converts harmful nitrogen oxides into harmless nitrate, this in turn reacts with the calcium hydroxide of the concrete surface and drains off with the next rainfall into soils where plants can use it.

Dalziel + Scullion, "Catalyst"

Boysen’s KNOxOUT Cleaning Paint also reacts with sunlight to reduce nitrogen oxide and other air pollutants found in car emissions. Boysen Paint Inc. conducted a trial last year at the Guadalupe MRT station, Manilla, Philippines,  and claims that the paint extracts enough toxins from the air so that it is like 30,000 have been removed from the roads daily. There is a large public art mural project underway in Manilla where a number of artists have been commissioned to paint large scale murals alongside of the highways using the KNOxOUT paint.


A link to the mural project as well as the other projects mentioned in this post can be found in the downloadable resources located on the home page of greenpublicart.com.

Remember, Public art can be green, functional and beautiful – and what better way to encourage and educate our communities about the environment!