When Solyndra, the massive Fremont-based solar company went bankrupt in 2011, it left behind a legacy of failure. It also left behind a lot of stuff.
Among the leftover parts were more than 24-million glass tubes, used in making its unique solar panels. The tubes ended-up stored in a San Jose warehouse.
Berkeley architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello incorporated 1,368 of the tubes in a new art installation at U.C. Berkeley’s Botanical Garden as part of its new Natural Discourse Exhibit.
“When we went and first saw these pieces of glass we were really inspired,” said Rael, an assistant professor of architecture at U.C. Berkeley. “The moment we held them up to the sun and saw how brilliantly they were able to pull the light.”
The tubes are embedded in the wall of a small hut in the garden, allowing light to enter and play off the tubes.
It turns out the installation also lit-up a bit of controversy. Republicans, bloggers and conservative commentators seized on the installation to blast the Obama Administration over its $535 million dollar loan to Solyndra.
“There was a politician who put out a press release calling this the most expensive piece of art ever made,” said Rael.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee even put out a press release comparing the installation to the cost of several very expensive paintings.
“American taxpayers paid $535 million for the Obama Administrations reckless investment in Solyndra,” said the Energy and Commerce release, “which can now be found in the foothills of Berkeley.”
“I would prefer to not to have political controversy surrounding the garden,” said Paul Licht, director of the Botanical Garden.
At the same time, Licht is embracing the practical side of the hoopla, with hopes it inspires more visitors.
“If they come here for the politics and discover the garden, something good has come out of politics,” Licht said.
Although Rael said he didn’t expect the controversy, he isn’t exactly shying away from it. He said ultimately, that’s what art and architecture should inspire.
“I think it’s good for people to have this kind of discourse and public debate,” Rael said.
The exhibit will remain up until December.