Art can help us to understand energy – Declan O’scullion’s speech at the launch 5Cube in Dublin

Declan O’scullion’s speech at the launch 5Cube in Dublin by Declan O’Scullion


We are all familiar nowadays with the seemingly endless attempts to grab our attention; whether it be a new marketing strategies for advertising, an environmental or political cause; all of which are utilising multi-media platforms, barrages of bright lights, video display, touch screens, etc. to a point where I think we develop a kind of fatigue and numbness to the sheer volume of information and statistics.

The objective with this project was create a kind of marker or monolith that was going to provoke people to look closer, take the time to ask, what is  this?

And then when the answer was revealed it perhaps has more of a chance to stay with you. You have to work a little bit to get the answer, so you tend to remember the answer a little better. All the more so if what you saw was memorable or beautiful and showed you something you had never realised before.

And as the 5CUBE was being constructed, I think the Contractors, Townlink, will vouch for the fact that a lack of passer-by interest was never going to be a concern; probably about every 2nd or 3rd person came up and asked, what is it? And when told, provoked a reaction in people.


The point of this project of course is to engage the public enough to at least first ask the question, and we can only hope that the message makes enough impact on people to maybe make one small change, because scale, here, is the issue – millions of people making millions of small changes has a global beneficial  effect.

We are consuming huge volumes of non-renewable fuels. And because all you have to do is flick a switch to turn on a toaster or a washing machine, we don’t correlate how much energy has to be used or consumed in order to make something power up. This cube of course only looks at oil consumption, never mind any other fossil fuel like coal or peat; if we were to physically model the consumption of those fossil fuels as well, the volume of fossil fuel consumption would be even more shocking.

The strength of the concept behind the 5cube is that you can scale it up to relate to other things. For example, if we filled the Liberty Hall in Dublin City Centre up to the brim in this morning with oil, it would all be gone by sunrise tomorrow. That’s a startling fact when you think it repeats day after day, year after year – and that only accounts for Ireland. And then there is the cost, for every tonne of CO2 we pay €20 in carbon tax. I’d need one of our boffins here to work out what cost that is, but I have no doubt we would be in for a shock on what all these CO2 emissions is costing us day in day out, quite apart from the devastating environmental impact.

To explain a little more for a moment into the design of the cube beyond the ’black box’; on the roof of course we have generated our own energy via Photovoltaic panels to illuminate the interior at night which creates quite a subtle yet dazzling reflection – the cube literally glows with its own self-generated energy.

As you all probably know by now, the black box is of course how much oil we in Ireland consume in five minutes, but as a counter to that statistic we have introduced these two mirrored strips on the east side of the cube (where the sun rises) and on the west, where the sun sets.

The East the strip represent how much energy was generated from renewable sources (in barrels of oil equivalent) in that same five minutes last year, while on the opposite side facing west, the strip represents what our target volume of energy generated from renewables in 2020.  You can draw your own conclusions about how meagre that seemingly onerous target really is.


Inside these mirrored strips you can look into the box and see the sky reflected and manipulated in various ways to create an illusion of a globe on one side, the east, and an infinite sky within the box on the other, the west.

You might ask ‘why the sky?’ Well the sky seemed relevant as a way to represent all the multiple forms of what we describe as renewable energy. When you think about it, most renewable energy is a direct or indirect result of the forces of nature, our environment or put simply, the weather – the wind visible in the movement of clouds, the sun transforming the colour of the sky from bright blue to warm orange, or even indeed the rain in dramatically powerful stormy weather.

The two mirrored strips frame these unusual views of the sky. Framing a view has a funny effect on our perception; suddenly the scale and speed of those   objects within the frame become more understandable or tangible; And when you stand still and look for a moment at that framed view of the sky on the West side of the 5CUBE; and you see the sheer energy of wind and cloud movement passing over our heads every minute, it seems to me that the answer of where we go from here in terms the source of our energy is clear.


I’d like to finish off by giving credit to the team who helped pull this project together; Joe McCarron, Martin Egan and Peter Shovlin of Townlink; To John Casey and Paddy Finnegan of Casey O’Rourke Consulting Engineers, to David Walshe and Tim Jago of IN2 engineering for the electrical services design; and of course all those in Dublin City Council, Eamon Duffy, John Ryan, Brian Swan and Ali Grehan who provided feedback and guidance and of course the Codema team – Suzanne Fitzpatrick, Edel Giltenane and Gerry Wardell.

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