Los Angeles Artist to Build Bamboo Billboard Garden

In the American city of Los Angeles one man's dream of bringing the beauty of bamboo into the busy lives of others via 'bamboo billboards' will become a reality after securing funding through online donations.

Stephen Glassman, famous for his numerous free-form bamboo installations during the 1990's, asked for $100,000 in donations via online fund raising website Kickstarter approximately seven months ago in order to start his ambitious project Urban Air that will see ordinary roadside billboards retro-fitted to support the growth of bamboo plants. On December 11th Glassman announced that the project will go ahead, with the total amount donated reaching $100.772

"I feel a real kind of freedom in the world in a more powerful, creative way," Glassman told the LA Times "It feels like a whole new territory. I mean the sky's the limit, literally. What's so great is this was a vote for something green and beautiful and ridiculous in the world."

The real challenge begins

Asking for and raising over $100,000 dollars from public donations was a daunting task in and of itself, however Urban Air's real challenge lie in the acquisition and retrofitting of the many billboards Glassman hopes to transform into tranquil, airborne pieces of nature.

Summit Media, one of the largest outdoor advertising companies in the city of Los Angeles has generously donated one of its billboard to Glassman for use in the ambitious project. Finding more may be difficult, as the funds raised are going towards the costs of materials, construction, labour and of course permits allowing for the growth of plants on billboards. Alex Kouba, founder of Summit Media commented on the grey area of billboard permits,

There isn't a check-the-box building permit for putting bamboo trees on a billboard. There's a lot of controversy swirling around billboards, but I think if city leaders appreciate the cultural impact of this and look at it from an artistic angle they'll have the foresight to support it."

According to David Lara, spokesman for the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, the agency would need to consult with the city attorney's office before they will be able to approve a permit for Urban Air. In addition to this, sign-offs from fire and planning authorities might also be necessary.

The installation itself will see bamboo plants, which have been selected due to requiring minimal root space while attaining proportionally large heights, sustained within the billboard via sensors that moderate air quality and control the irrigation system. Wifi will also be installed so that climate control information can be beamed directly to bypassing drivers and pedestrians.

Finding inspiration in down town Los Angeles

While Glassman's works are based on the beauty and simplicity of natural bamboo, his inspiration come from a completely different source. His 1990's free-form bamboo installations were originally erected in parts of California damaged and destroyed by the Malibu fires as well as the violent Rodney King Riots. It was during these years that Glassman originally envisioned Uban Air,

When the Northridge quakes hit, and the freeways fell,' Says Glassman of the 1994 disaster, 'the billboards remained and that's when they first caught my eye.

"There is an advertising infrastructure that goes through this city that is strong and robust and at this moment only dedicated toward selling you things, and it could be much more. It could be both a symbol and an instrument for generating a green future."

If all goes to plan Glassman has stated that the first arrangement of bamboo within the Summit Media provided billboard will be unveiled in February. He hopes that the first installation will gain the support of philanthropist organizations such as C40, an international network of megacities devoted to addressing climate change and that in turn, transform Urban Air a unique global project. The blueprints for the original will be made available so that it can not only be remade, but reinterpreted in different ways that suit different plants and different shapes and sizes of billboard.

Ultimately Glassman's dream will only become a reality due to the 1,565 backers who donated their money to what the believe to be a worthy cause. In a comment made on the project's Kickstarter page following the its deadline, Glassman gave his thanks,

(I) really appreciate how much you all wanted to see this Random Act of Beauty happen. means a lot to me, and says alot to the world about the human value of art. So many of you have connected to the piece and found personal meaning in it. So much passion unleashed into the world. That's a success on it's own. I've learned a lot and grown as an artist because of it. Now it's time to build!


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