Lush Fantasies: An Overview of the Solarpunk Aesthetic
In 2021, the yoghurt company Chobani released an animated commercial produced by London-based animation studio The Line.
“Dear Alice, this place is yours now. It’s a handful, but nothing worth doing is easy. The land is more than just dirt. If you look after it, it’ll feed you forever,” says the voiceover talent softly and altruistically.
The commercial was a big success.
Besides the fact that superstar Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi scored the music, the aesthetic of the animation was uplifting, hopeful and unique.
With its ubiquitous nature and futuristic tech, it single-handedly introduced many viewers to an aesthetic that had already been circulating online with a loyal following since the 2010s: solarpunk.
Solarpunk is a literary genre, an aesthetic and a movement all in one.
It optimistically envisions a future where greenery is abundant, technology is employed in support of nature rather than against it and relies on renewable energies like solar, and capitalism is abolished to be replaced by communitarian societies.
Continue reading to discover more about the solarpunk subgenre’s origins and the characteristics of the utopian aesthetic.
BIRTH OF THE SOLARPUNK AESTHETIC
Cyberpunk, steampunk, atompunk – these all began as sci-fi literary subgenres imagining the role of technology in the future, but then often expanded to encompass an aesthetic dimension.
Cyberpunk – the “high tech, low life” vision that sees the future with a dark, dystopian lens – is the most well-known punk subgenre and is the one that popularised the use of the “punk” suffix to indicate a form of anarchy, change, or rebellion.
It’s also one of the darkest of these sub-genres. This makes the bright-eyed solarpunk a welcome respite.
The rise of solarpunk flourished online, and the provenance of the term is difficult to pin down. The first use of the term “solarpunk” is typically attributed to a 2008 post on the economics and politics blog Republic of the Bees.
“I’m going to suggest a new literary genre: solarpunk,” wrote the anonymous author.
With that, they proposed Norman Spinrad’s 1980 novel Songs From The Stars as an example of this newly-identified literary genre.
“I indulge a hope of someday living in a solarpunk world.”
Years later in 2014, a post by the Tumblr user Olivia Louise circulated widely, and discussions quickly began trending across the platform.
Like most movements, solarpunk needed a manifesto to declare its vision and aims.
“Solarpunk is at once a vision of the future, a thoughtful provocation, a way of living, and a set of achievable proposals to get there,” reads the manifesto hosted on ReDes.
The “solar” part of the term case refers to solar energy and epitomises the importance of renewable energy in moving towards a sustainable, clean, and plausible future.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE SOLARPUNK AESTHETIC
What makes cityscape art stand out as solarpunk-inspired?
The use of thriving nature, sustainable architecture and technology, and organic forms and embellishments are three predominant elements.
Agrarian communities with a respect for the regenerative power of nature are at the centre of the solarpunk aesthetic, and solarpunk art tends to be vivid with varying shades of greenery across the depicted flora and fauna.
Scenes that solarpunk artists have imagined include vertical forestry and farming across architectural structures, cultivated fields and pastures, and vibrant, clear skies.
Different species of animals – from birds to insects – tend to be present.
Solar Punk City, Tiago Sousa
SUSTAINABLE ARCHITECTURE AND TECHNOLOGIES
Despite the fact that solarpunk is highly nature-focused, it doesn’t discount the role technology has in the advancement of civilisation.
All technology featured in solarpunk art, however, is powered by renewable energy sources, from solar, to wind, to kinetic.
Solarpunk innovation is often retrofuturistic and relies on existing infrastructure to imagine new variations without an environmental footprint. Other eco-friendly inventions, like the sailing boat, are placed as is.
It’s worth mentioning that there are rarely any cars or forms of transportation in sight.
Solarpunk city design for Fuzzy Binary Games by Ginkgo Whale / Nusa Stiglitz
ORGANIC FORMS AND EMBELLISHMENTS
As opposed to sharp, angular architecture, organic architecture employs the use of curved lines to replicate the forms existent in nature and therefore blend in with less intrusion.
Solarpunk artists have imagined the likes of tree-shaped buildings, floating bubble structures, and massive greenhouses.
Ornamentations like whiplash lines and floral forms tend to fit into solarpunk scenes, so it comes as no surprise that Art Nouveau is frequently mentioned as a source of inspiration for the aesthetic.
SOLARPUNK BEYOND FICTION
While the solarpunk vision is often dismissed to be a non-viable utopian fantasy, many would beg to differ.
Unlike cyberpunk, solarpunk stretches far beyond its literary and aesthetic aspects; it encompasses a community of optimistic members who hope the future sees society take on these anti-capitalist, communitarian and agrarian ideals – thus making solarpunk a movement of some sort.
The Solarpunk community on Reddit currently counts over 100,000 members who discuss actionable procedures, technological breakthroughs and policies that are in line with the movement.
The initiatives are in full momentum, too. The writer Justine Norton-Kertson founded Solarpunk Magazine in 2021 and launched a Kickstarter to fund the publication – raising over US$27,000 at the time of writing.
“The time for solarpunk has come, and the mission of this magazine is to become one of many important catalysts for an important and necessary revolution within both the literary world and our larger culture,” they wrote.
Solarpunk-inspired events continuously pop up around the world, more and more so in the face of the rising threats of climate change.
As a core component of the solarpunk vision, ecological architecture is one of the most powerful courses of action communities can take to inch nearer to this sustainable future. Breakthroughs are appearing globally, and perhaps the solarpunk vision isn’t merely utopian after all.
With his innovative designs that incorporate renewable energy technologies, the Belgian “archibiotect” Vincent Callebaut proves that much of the premises of solarpunk are feasible.
The Burkinabe architect Francis Kere’s community-focused approach, use of local materials, and passive thermal comfort strategies are very much in line with the solarpunk vision. These efforts haven’t gone unnoticed, and the architect was recently awarded the 2022 Pritzker Prize.
View of Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. Photo: Sergio Sala/Unsplash
Grant Associates’ “supertree” vertical greenery structures at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore look like they were borrowed from a solarpunk dream.
Exterior view of the Bosco Verticale towers in Milan, Italy. Photo: Victor/Unsplash
Likewise, with their more than 900 trees, Stefano Boeri’s Bosco Verticale towers in Milan, Italy, capture the essence of the vertical forestry often portrayed by solarpunk artists (though the sustainable efforts at the towers have often been questioned and the developers accused of greenwashing).
Does life imitate art, or is art imitating life? With green building innovations, it’s hard to tell; birds may just one day travel in unison with flying wind turbines.
- High Tech, Low Life: 5 Illustrators That Mastered The Cyberpunk Aesthetic
- Pritzker Prize Winner Francis Kere: Star Architect, Community Champion
- So, What Does Sustainable Art Really Mean?
- Bioart: The Discipline Of Straddling Art And Science
- Can Music Festivals Dance To A Sustainable Tune?
- Adaptive Reuse: 5 Buildings Given A New Purpose In Life
Cover Credit: A New Age, Dimitris Karakashev, 2022/ArtStation
Writer | Bana Bissat
Bana Bissat is a Milan-based writer who reports on sound art for Sound of Life. She has written for Flash Art, Lampoon, and Cultured. @banabissat