Nestled between luxury condominiums and graffitied warehouses in LA’s Arts District sits the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI). The 20,000 square-foot facility is an oasis of sorts contained within 3.2 acres of sustainable land. LACI is a nonprofit organization partnered with the City’s Department of Water and Power (LADWP), which has its headquarters right across the street.
The partnership between LADWP and LACI began in 2011 with the mission to educate and build a more inclusive green economy for the people of LA, according to the LACI website.
Michael Maier, an employee of LACI and one of the La Kretz campus tour guides––which is open to the public for tours throughout the week––gives tours regularly of the facilities and engagement labs housed within the La Kretz Innovation Campus.
“This engagement lab supports anyone who wants to learn more about what LADWP does and how it interacts with the city,” said Maier. “The three primary verticals that LACI focuses on are energy, transportation and sustainable cities.”
Once inside, a verdant plant wall greets visitors in the waiting area. Recycling bins line the sun-soaked walls of the interior, and several employees hurry by holding reusable water bottles.
According to Maier, the lush garden wall has 2,100 plants and is LACI’s unofficial mascot.
LADWP purchased the building in 2010—it was originally a storage warehouse for the venerable Barker Bros. Furniture Company, popular in Southern California during the midcentury. Renovations began a year later in compliance with LA’s Adaptive Reuse Ordinance, which allows the conversion of commercial buildings into new, more productive uses.
The building is partially powered by the energy generated from the 175 kW solar panels on top of the parking lot’s overhang, explained Maier.
Within LACI there are startups, pilot campaigns, fellowship programs, an Artists in Residence (AIR) program and 22 portfolio companies that are all moving the cleantech industry forward. Their specialties range from creating centralized charging centers for city scooters to energy efficient plasma lighting for the film and entertainment markets.
Brittany Ransom is one of the Artists in Residence at LACI. She started with the program in June 2019 and has explored the environmental effects of insect pests in relation to waste, energy and agriculture in urban areas. Bark beetle is the main invasive species Ransom is studying while in the AIR program.
“I have been researching the effects of bark beetles in relation to the Southern California drought and consequently the wildfire damages due to climate change,” said Ransom. “I proposed to do work with the innovators at LACI to study the effects of this pest’s impact on our current air quality due to tree impacts.”
According to a U.S. Forest Service survey conducted earlier this year, this single insect could kill as many as 27 million trees in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, including parts of the desert.
Ransom became interested in bark beetles after she first read about them in August 2018 during the catastrophic wildfire season that blazed throughout California.
“I saw much of this damage while on a vacation in Colorado and was hiking in the Breckenridge area,” said Ransom. “My own practice has had a long history of investigating various types of insects that we as humans consider pests and utilize them for metaphorical explorations about our own human activities and conditions.”
Ransom teaches digital fabrication as well as kinetics and electronics at California State University Long Beach (CSULB). In the classroom, she uses experimental art forms to explore connections between human activity and the degradation of the natural world, Ransom says.
“Digital fabrication often allows for quick process of prototyping solutions that allow creatives, engineers, and inventors alike to address issues affecting the environment and sustainability,” said Ransom.
At LACI Ransom has access to the Advanced Prototype Center, where artists work alongside innovators to combat climate-related issues much like the bark beetle project she is currently undertaking. In the lab, Ransom uses a laser cutter to turn path structures created by the bark beetle in damaged trees into a test prototype. According to Ransom, she then the studies intricate pathways to draw visual parallels between the invasive pest’s habits and our own human building patterns.
Ransom’s six-month residency will conclude at the end of this year. She plans to enlist students’ help to continue her invasive species research beyond LACI.
“My goal in this particular project is to utilize these methods of production to produce works that allow humans to be reflexive of our own species as being one of the largest and most expansive pests on the plant, and that we are just as complicit in processes of climate change as we believe these pests that humans consider unequal to be.”
Find out more about how LACI brings together artists and innovators to create an inclusive, climate-friendly economy here.