The question of what will happen to the power plant on Harbor Dr. looms. As Redondo Beach awaits the answer, conversation about the plant — and how best to maximize the 50 acres it occupies — remains rife.
Last Friday night, it seeped into a TEDxRedondoBeach event, which was called “Reimagining Our Cities,” held at the Ignited headquarters in El Segundo, and attended by nearly 100 people.
City staff, TED aficionados, and curious Redondo Beach residents gathered to watch a series of televised talks about architecture and city planning. Two of those TEDTalks referenced creative ways London and Copenhagen design firms have re-modeled power generating stations; both prompted audience discussion of the AES power plant, whose future on the Redondo Beach waterfront hangs presently in the balance.
London designer Thomas Heatherwick owns the firm that built The Seed Cathedral – a building that moves with the wind and that represented London’s contribution to the Shanghai World Expo last year. During his TEDTalk, which Redondo Beach residents had the opportunity to watch Friday, Heatherwick discusses the biomass-fueled power station his studio was commissioned to design in the United Kingdom.
He explains that his firm found “inefficiencies” in the way the facility was being utilized, and promptly tackled the dual challenges of maximizing its functionality and simultaneously improving its aesthetic.
“Existing biomass-fuelled power stations normally take the form of a collection of separate sheds housing the different pieces of equipment and an 85-metre high chimney stack, placed on top of the ground,” reads Heatherwick Studio’s project description. “Working with engineers, we brought these pieces of equipment together into a single structure, clustered around the stack, which both improved the power station’s functional efficiency and simplified its composition.
“The existing facilities also seemed remarkably noisy, creating a perception of the power station as polluting, even when it wasn’t. Because it would feel much cleaner if it was almost silent, we proposed that the large quantity of soil that was sitting on the site could be piled up against the structure to dampen the sound.
“To get away from the idea that a power station must be cordoned off with barbed wire and danger signs, we suggested that these slopes of soil might be seeded with plants and grasses, turning this landscape into a Power Park, where people might walk, sunbathe, have picnics or go tobogganing.”
Heatherwick’s design prompted applause from some of the Redondo Beach audience watching.
Then there was Bjarke Ingels, a Copenhagen architect who owns a firm called BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) and believes in what he calls hedonistic sustainability – the idea that sustainability doesn’t have to be about sacrifice, but can be fun, fresh, and inventive.
It’s an approach Ingels popularized with his highly-publicized design for a waste-to-power plant – a facility that will convert waste into heat and electricity for 140,000 homes, but will double as a ski field about 5,000 feet high.
As Ingels explains in his TEDTalk, the design “turns a power plant into a park and turns a flatland into a manmade mountain for skiing.”
“The initial vision of trying to design our cities and buildings as ecosystems is quite close to materializing in this project, not only locally — there’s the reuse of water, the daylight, the natural ventilation — but also in a sort of more regional perspective… the plan actually forms an ecosystem,” he says.
In a fun twist, CO2 will emit from the facility in the form of “giant smoke rings.”
“You take the symbol of the problem — the pollution, the chimney — and turn it into something playful,” he says. “But more importantly, one of the main drivers of behavioral change is knowledge. If people don’t know, they can’t act. When my nephews ask me what’s a ton of CO2, I tell them I have no clue. In 2015 I can tell them to count 10 smoke rings and when they’ve counted 10 of them, we’ve just emitted one ton of CO2.”
The project broke ground last year and should be completed in 2016.
Both Heatherwick and Ingels’ TEDTalks seemed to inspire and energize the TEDxRedondoBeach event, as members of the audience were eager to remark upon what they perceived to be progressive, fresh ways to deal with the conundrum of a power plant located in the midst of a community.
The audience seemed more open to Heatherwick and Ingels’ ideas than to those of architect Daniel Libeskind, whose TEDtalk was also screened on Friday night. Libeskind, who won a competition in 2003 to reconstruct at Ground Zero, discusses in his TEDtalk 17 words he associates with architecture and which are reflective of his style: unexpected, risky, memorable, communicative, optimism, raw, hand (i.e. man-made), inexplicable, expressive, space, pointed, real, democratic, emotional, political, complex, and radical.
The response to his designs and style was, for the most part, negatively connotated, as Redondo Beach TEDx enthusiasts called his structures “egotistic” and “offensive.” One woman pointed out that his structures ignore the context they occupy.
TED is a global non-profit that is, according to its website, “on a mission to spread ideas.” TED sponsors two annual conferences, at which innovative people from the technology, entertainment, design, science, and business sectors can apply to speak. Via its website, TED disseminates over 700 of those TEDTalks and others, delivered by innovative and forward-thinking people.
Local chapters of TED, dubbed TEDx, organize events that center on several TEDtalks and audience discussion. The TEDxRedondoBeach committee consists of volunteers – organizer Janet Johnson handed the reins to Christian Anthony Horvath Friday night – who arrange events to give Redondo Beach its own dose of TED inspiration.
For upcoming TEDxRedondoBeach events or for more information, visit tedxredondobeach.com.