Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Greetings to the Sun

Zadar, Croatia, is home to one of the most unique and beautiful displays of art in harmony with science and nature in the world. Two light and sound installations fueled by the elements attract visitors from around the world to this sensory-enticing spot on the Adriatic Sea.

Zadar is a Mediterranean city whose history stretches back almost 3,000 years. Visitors to the old city can tour an intact 9th century church and sit to enjoy ice cream among Roman ruins that date back to the city's early days.

What draws tourists and locals alike to the northwestern-most point on the old city's peninsula isn't hundreds or thousands of years old, though. It isn't even decades old. It's two art installations completed only a few years ago.

The first is the Morske Orgulje, or Sea Organ, which plays music using waves coming from the sea. The 230 foot (70 meter) long organ was built to replace the end of a bland concrete wall built during post-World War II reconstruction.

Thirty-five organ pipes are embedded in concrete under a series of marble steps that cascade into the sea. When waves crash against the steps, water fills the pipes under the marble, compressing the air in a chamber beneath the steps. The compression and decompression (after a wave recedes) of the air powers the organ. Each pipe's length was carefully chosen so that the seaside music is always in harmony.

Embedded in the sidewalk near the organ is the Pozdrav Suncu, or Greetings to the Sun, light installation. During the day, the 77 foot (22 meter) diameter circle is a gigantic array of solar panels. By night, the disc is a soothing, psychedelic sidewalk light show.

The circular light display represents the Sun and several other smaller discs embedded in the sidewalk nearby represent planets in our solar system.

The energy absorbed by the solar panels during the day is used at night to power not only the light display itself, but also a portion of Zadar's waterfront. (Estimates indicate that the display generates about 46,500 kWh of electricity a year.)

Both installations were engineered by Croatian architect Nikola Bašić and the organ won the European Prize for Urban Public Space in 2006. For more about the organ's construction, click here.

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