Billboards don’t add much to the urban environment besides visual pollution and a sense of clutter. Maybe that’s just because we’re not utilizing them correctly. If billboards could feature aerial bamboo gardens and Wi-Fi connected climate monitoring systems instead of advertisements, they’d be a lot more palatable.
That’s what Los Angeles sculptor Stephen Glassman wants to do with the Urban Air "global art-in-public" project. Glassman has long worked with bamboo. In the early 1990s, he put up large bamboo installations in L.A. neighborhoods affected by the Northridge earthquake, Malibu fires, and Rodney King riots. He soon realized that the metal billboards surrounding L.A. seemed to be impervious to disaster.
His vision: installing planters, bamboo, and sensors that keep track of air quality and temperature into Los Angeles billboard spaces. The result, he believes, would transform "the steel and wood of outdoor advertising into the infrastructure of urban sustainability in cities around the globe—actively, publicly, and collectively generating a green global future," according to the Urban Air Kickstarter page.
The Urban Air project isn’t a pipe dream. Glassman has partnered with billboard company Summit Media and engineering firm Arup to help bring the idea to fruition. Summit is even donating billboards along major thoroughfares in the city to the artist.
Here’s how the system works: Participating billboards lose their commercial facades, which are replaced by planters containing bamboo trees. Water misters are mounted on the structure to create what Arup calls "a cloud forest in the sky." Wireless sensors keep track of environmental conditions—even how the Urban Air installation is affecting the surrounding microclimate—and the results can be made available to the public. As a bonus, the billboards could even combat the urban heat island effect (where city surfaces absorb solar radiation and store heat) thanks to the bamboo, which provides natural cooling.
Urban Air has raised just over $8,500 at the time of writing; the project is aiming to raise $100,000 over the next month. If it’s funded, at least one prototype billboard in L.A. will get a bamboo makeover.