Power Plant

‘Power Plant’ was a futuristic greenhouse that used sunlight to generate both food and electricity. Could it help to allay our fears for humanity’s future?

Food drives many of our most primal emotions, and increasingly it is at the root of our deepest fears. The world’s population is growing rapidly; by 2050, 2.5 billion people will live in cities. At the same time, climate change is amplifying weather extremes – deserts are expanding and fertile land is becoming scarcer. The question is, how can we continue to feed so many people – and how can we do so in a way that doesn’t do further damage to the planet?

Power Plant, the Netherlands’ installation, showed how design offers cause for hope. Visitors entered a greenhouse of the future – a building that harvested both food and the electricity needed to grow it. Power Plant’s transparent solar glass maintained its indoor climate, enabling year-round growth, while a hydroponic system circulated nutrient-enriched water, reducing water use by 90 per cent compared to traditional soil farming. By growing vertically, and by using specifically coloured LEDs in addition to sunlight, plant growth can be increased by up to 40 times. “We hope to build a Kew Gardens of the 21st century,” said designer Marjan van Aubel, “where we celebrate modern technologies and grow the plants of the future.”

Power Plant also mounted an eloquent defence of the role of aesthetics in social design. By reimagining solar panels as desirable objects, van Aubel pointed out, they become more adaptable to different settings. “Solar energy doesn't have to be ugly and can be implemented in the most unexpected places,” she said. “Design gives us the ability to imagine a future where efficiency and functionality are on an equal footing with beauty.”

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Photography: Ed Reeve

Photography: Ed Reeve


Administering Body:

Het Nieuwe Instituut


Marjan van Aubel

Design Team:

Emma Elston, Scott van Haastrecht, Britt Berden, Maurits Koster, Craig Barrow

Supporting Bodies:

Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in London, Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, What Design Can Do

2018 Exhibitors