Contributing Monkie G Living Staff Monkies
Published on January 14, 2009
“If people are going to change their lifestyles to be more green, I think the alternatives have to be exciting and fun,” says artist and designer Michael Jantzen when asked about the frequent use of wind in his work. It’s a comment that immediately jumps out, and then later strikes me as an apt thesis of sorts for his vast body of intriguing work, whether wind-utilizing or not.
Jantzen’s designs have gained national attention for their exploration of alternative energy as a standard architectural feature; his projects have graced the pages of Newsweek, Wired, Architectural Digest, House Beautiful and other publications. While all environmentally beneficial, forward-thinking concepts merit mass public attention in my mind, something about Jantzen’s projects always manage to stand out.
Which makes it ironic that as one struggles to come up with some sort of witty, urban cosmopolitan cleverness with which to describe his work, Jantzen ends up saying it far better and more succinctly than any thesaurus-bound writer could: his designs are exciting and fun.
Such as his Desert Winds Eco Spa, “a conceptual proposal for a wind and solar powered, eco-friendly, prefabricated modular spa,” which he designed for off-the-grid operation in a hot desert climate. Originally conceived at the suggestion of his sister, who was seeking ideas for a Mexican resort property, the spa explores exciting and fun ways to integrate the use of alternative energy gathering and storage into a contemporary landscape. Utilizing prefabricated components made of steel and concrete composite materials, the concept consists of a group of linked-together single and two-story modules erected in the hot desert. Each would be equipped with a segmented secondary structure that would monitor the sun’s movement and automatically rotate around the module to shelter it from the sun and protect it during sand storms.
In addition, rainwater would be collected and stored for later use — such as the manufacturing of hydrogen gas, which could be utilized in various ways at the spa. Regardless of the scorching outside temperature, the buildings would be kept cool by manipulating natural air flow and using deeply buried underground earth pipes to pre-cool the outside air before it reaches the indoors.
Finally, a vertical axis wind turbine mounted atop each structure would gather most of the energy needed to run the facility. It’s this aspect of the spa that he’s discussing when the “exciting and fun” label comes up. Having designed structures like the Wind Shaped Pavilion, the Wind Shade Roof and the Wind Tunnel Footbridge, it wasn’t difficult to detect a theme in Jantzen’s work relating to this particular form of sustainable energy. While he considers wind to be “a very practical and economical way to generate power,” he also favors the aesthetic aspect of wind turbines — in particular, the vertical axis variety — over solar cells, which he says are less fun, design-wise, in the sense that they “just sit there.”
As for the general incorporation of sustainable elements, Jantzen says this is a no-brainer. Calling it “the only intelligent way to design,” he thinks structures that are environmentally friendly are the best and most challenging way to benefit the masses, regardless of their income. It’s something he first became interested in while doing undergraduate work at Southern Illinois University in the early 1970s. The fact that decades later, eco design has become de rigueur is great, he says, even though
there is still too much environmental ignorance floating about. “Most people don’t understand that their lives would only get better if they green up,” he says.
As for his own personal environmental vice, Jantzen says he still can’t afford to drive a Prius, but hopes that his designs will inspire a more widespread incorporation of alternative energy systems. This would certainly fulfill his definition of good design, which he describes as something that “works well, looks good and stimulates new ways of thinking.” (And once again, I couldn’t have said it better.)
Up next on Jantzen’s creative plate is the exhibition of his M-House at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and he’s also in discussions to design a “green eco theme park of the future.” And while it’s a fair assumption that if the park project ever comes to fruition, it will make good aesthetic use of wind energy, one thing is absolutely certain: like all theme parks, environmentally friendly or not, Jantzen’s will be exciting and fun.
Check out Michael Jantzen’s other works here.