Engineer the Future: Iconic artworks reimagined to show a net zero carbon future

Iconic paintings have been reimagined by artist Ashly Lovett to show how engineering innovations could help to transform everyday life and landscapes in the future.

Ashly Lovett has digitally remastered artworks – including Van Gogh’s Factories at Clichy, Constable’s The Wheat Field, Pissarro’s La Rue Saint-Honoré and Monet’s The Seashore at Sainte-Adresse – with the aim to inspire conversations about the kinds of engineering advances that could help to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

Electric planes and flying taxis, vertical orchards and rooftop farms are just some of the innovations that feature in the reworked masterpieces, commissioned by the Royal Academy of Engineering as part of its This Is Engineering campaign to promote engineering careers in response to a significant skills and diversity shortfall in the profession.

The Engineer the Future collection can be viewed online via Google Arts & Culture. The aim of the exhibition is to start a conversation about what we want a net zero future to look like, and the role of future engineers in that.

Innovations such as agricultural robots, smart thermochromic windows, vertical farms and flying taxis have been woven into the reimagined impressionist masterpieces to depict what a more sustainable world may look like in the future. Ashly Lovett’s reimaginings show how innovative agriculture, aviation, transport and buildings could help to transform everyday life and landscapes.

Were Van Gogh to paint Factories at Clichy in 2050, his masterpiece might feature autonomous ‘agbots’ – agricultural robots – tending the crops using precision farming; a development that could help to slash agricultural carbon emissions, according to Ashly Lovett’s reimagined artwork.

Sophie Harker, Assistant Chief Engineer of Electric Products at BAE Systems, thinks that Van Gogh would capture in the skies above, a variety of electrically powered ways to transport ourselves and our goods in 2050. She said: “In the future, we may be using a pod system for public transport, for example on a Hyperloop. These pods could look like the Maglev trains and could travel within a vacuum to reduce drag and increase speed. People would likely use this system for travelling long distances cross-country or city to city, then shorter journeys could be taken by vertical taxis that carry up to four people. Heavy lift flying drones could also be used for transportation of goods or for emergency response.”

Constable’s The Wheat Field, reimagined for 2050, includes solar powered pruning robots, autonomous grass cutting machines and crop-monitoring drones. Meanwhile, environmentally friendly hydrogen planes can be seen in the sky, with futuristic shapes that maximise fuel-efficiency and range of travel. 

Kit Franklin, Senior Lecturer in Agricultural Engineering at Harper Adams University, said: “The artistic reinterpretation of Constable has removed the hard physical labour and repetitive tasks of agricultural farmhands as autonomous robots take on the work humans would have traditionally done. Agbots make farming more precise to conserve vital resources like water and energy and we’ll see smaller machines in future to help preserve soil quality and health.  A healthy soil is not only vital for growing food, it can also sequester carbon more effectively than one that has been compacted by large machinery. If Constable were to walk in the British countryside in 2050, he’d see smaller fields with strips of different coloured crops, and less productive fields rewilded with trees, wildflowers and shrubs to boost biodiversity and pollination.”

A reimagining of Monet’s The Seashore at Sainte-Adresse has incorporated the visions of engineer, Professor Susan Gourvenec, RAEng Chair in Emerging Technologies for Intelligent & Resilient Ocean Engineering at the University of Southampton. She said: “If Monet was to paint The Seashore at Sainte-Adresse in 2050, his famous seascape might feature offshore energy farms generating renewable energy through wind turbines or tidal power, which could be used to power homes or produce green hydrogen, and to refuel ocean-going cargo vessels offshore.  Closer to the shore, seagrass plantations might be visible, which would not only capture carbon but also provide coastal protection and improve the coastal ecosystem and habitat for wildlife.”

The artist has also imagined a residential building on the coast that uses thermochromic windows to help to cool the house and generate solar power, reducing its carbon footprint and maximising efficiency.

Pissarro’s La Rue Saint-Honoré has been reworked to reflect a vision of the future in which a central hub links several public transport systems including an electrically powered monorail, vertical taxi station and underground stations. Professor Chris Wise RDI FREng, Founder Partner of Expedition, says: “If Pissarro were to travel to Paris in 2050, he might find buildings that have been designed to take full advantage of their environment.  No side of a building would look the same: the south facing side is shaded and both east and west facades have screens to capture the morning and evening sun.

“The artist might also find chameleon buildings with a ‘skin’ that is responsive to sunlight and shade for temperature regulation. Pissarro, who suffered from an eye-infection and eventually went blind, would find getting round the city easier with colour coded areas and rumble strips, as well as a monorail system that dispenses with the need for a car. He’d also find less hard landscaping.  As we see increased rainfall and flooding in the future, cities will have replaced concrete pavements with more permeable materials and greenery.” 

All images: Google Arts & Culture

Engineer the Future

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living

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