The weather affects us every day, but rarely receives the attention it deserves. Often relegated to small talk conversation, we downplay the many ways weather influences our daily life, culture, and health. The weather – the day-to-day state of the atmosphere generally perceived as a combination of temperature, humidity, precipitation, cloudiness, visibility, and wind – is a moment in time. However, when we move beyond a single weather event and study the weather of a place averaged over time, a pattern can be established. The climate, or the pattern of weather moments, is not as easy to perceive, but greatly affects ecosystems and communities around the world.
Falon Mihalic, founder of landscape architecture and public art firm Falon Land Studio, seeks to give form to this invisible force that impacts our lives and shapes the landscape of our communities. Using visual art, Mihalic aims to connect the weather to our changing climate in ways that spark dialogue with the public. During the Land8x8 Lightning Talks in Houston, TX, Mihalic shared examples of her firm’s built and speculative work to walk the audience through the “why” and “how” of feeling the weather.
The weather brings out many feelings, ranging from poetic, sublime, strange, dramatic, or even tremendous. To depict the fleeting, often intangible feelings of weather, Mihalic combines art and technology, presenting climate research in a legible and accessible form. As a landscape architect, Mihalic understands the effects weather has on the landscape, often tasked with providing creative and innovative design solutions for climate challenges such as increasing precipitation, drought, and heat stress. As an artist, Mihalic attempts to translate this knowledge in a way that resonates with the public and inspires societal change.
One such project, Color Cloud, is a site-specific public art installation that celebrates the unique skyscape over Houston. Made of polychrome mesh, the installation was inspired by the breathtaking beauty of the Houston summertime storm clouds. This immersive, colorful public art installation serves as a gateway into the experience of cloud-gazing in the city. In addition to the artwork, Mihalic’s firm created a crowd-sourced map depicting the best local places for cloud-gazing. This temporary project got the neighborhood thinking about and celebrating the natural beauty of their environment.
At a similar neighborhood scale, Climate Pulse is a weather-responsive light sculpture that incorporates technology to depict local changes in temperature and humidity. Sited in Houston’s Emancipation Park, this temporary installation was designed as a parametric sculpture with responsive lighting integrated into the structure. Using an algorithm that translated temperature data into colors, the sculpture emits a glow of color based on ambient temperature. At high humidity levels, the lights sparkle to warn of impending rain, bringing attention to the changing weather and climate patterns of the site.
Bayou Beacon aims to depict weather data and climate impacts on a regional scale. The Buffalo Bayou is the main river flowing through the center of Houston, Texas. The bayou has experienced many major flooding events, including Hurricane Harvey in 2017 where extensive rainfall brought the bayou to record high water levels. The surrounding communities are greatly impacted by storm surges, but their vulnerability is not always perceived. Utilizing real-time data, the art installation will showcase the rise and fall of water levels, expressing the Buffalo Bayou as a shifting, dynamic system. This prototype intends to bring the bayou’s water levels into the public eye, forcing viewers to confront the reality and urgency of sea level rise in their community.
Climate change makes us more vulnerable to heat stress, poor air quality, and certain diseases. However, the effects of the changing environment on our human health are often invisible, and therefore easily forgotten. From Invisible to Visible is a project aimed at making air quality legible in the built environment. Mihalic’s team is currently developing prototypes of an air quality monitoring device that provides real-time air quality information to the public. By making the invisible problem of poor air quality visible to the public, the project aims to build social capacity and raise awareness on climate issues.
Through her work, Mihalic seeks to take the wonder embodied in the weather and translate it into something expressive that brings users into direct conversation with the future. Artists and landscape architects play an important role in building climate literacy and community resilience. Mihalic calls her fellow colleagues to bring the topic of the weather out of the realm of small talk and onto a larger societal platform.
This video was filmed on June 26, 2019 in Houston, TX as part of the Land8x8 Lighting Talks sponsored by Anova Furnishings.