Waterfront Arch Will Generate Solar Power For This Surprising Town

Pirie Associates Architects have won a design competition for Rio Iluminado, a new artwork that will help power a reclaimed waterfront that's becoming a 3.4-acre whitewater park near the Willimantic River in Connecticut.


May 18 2019, Updated 7:55 a.m. ET

A reclaimed waterfront in Willimantic, Connecticut, will have artwork that’s able to generate solar energy. The Rio Iluminato is expected to hold a 900-square foot solar array on top with stainless steel panels on the bottom reflecting the entire area. This week, it was victorious in the Land Art Generator Institute’s design competition (LAGI).

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LAGI revealed the winner on Connecticut Arts Day on Wednesday. The solar arch was designed by Pirie Associates Architects with the aid of Lindsay Suter and Gar Waterman, an architect and sculptor, respectively. LAGI also worked with Willimantic community members and universities to help develop a new centerpiece for brownfield remediation.

“Rio Iluminado was chosen by the selection committee as the winner because the design emerged out of a thoughtful community engagement process and reflects (both literally and figuratively) the hopes and aspirations of the people of Willimantic for this new place with a timeless and elegant regenerative sculpture,” LAGI co-founders Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry said in a blog post.

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Rio Iluminato is capable of generating 25.5 megawatt-hours of energy. That’s enough to power the 3.4-acre landscape that is going to become a park along the Willimantic River. A number of brownfields exist across the United States at waterfronts and urban areas, and this particular section will be remediated, or restored for public use.

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The next phase will have further design elements in the project, such as how it will be fully constructed, surveying the land it’s built on, how much it will cost, and a schedule to get it completed. LAGI will then enter a third phase that “will see the fabrication, instruction, and production of the artwork” at up to $500,000.

“Willimantic, as a community in its postindustrial reckoning, struggled to identify itself and its future,” Laura Pirie, principal of Pirie Associates Architects, said in a statement. “The LAGI program really resonated with us, from a community purpose-making point of view.”

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Once redeveloped, the land will be a recreational site serving multiple uses. The town expects it to bring in tourism, spark a change in their downtown areas, and to enhance community life. It’s a model that could be used in similar areas across the state.

Two other projects were considered in the contest. Eddy Line was a solar-powered sculpture created by a variety of architects and had a potential of generating 94 megawatt-hours of clean energy through sunlight. Another idea was the Solar Boombox, a self-explanatory shipping container that had less capacity, but played music in the process.

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