Tree Turbine sculpture

Kaitlin Mahar

Upon their return to the University of New Haven for the 2015 spring semester, some students may have noticed a new addition to the copious amounts of beautiful trees and shrubbery. However, as the saying goes, one of these things is not like the other.

A new turbine sculpture by UNH’s Joe Smolinkski is located between Celentano and Botwinik Hall
A new turbine sculpture by UNH’s Joe Smolinkski is located between Celentano and Botwinik Hall

The new “tree” and its accompanying rock are actually an art piece by UNH’s own faculty member Joe Smolinski. Aptly named “Tree Turbine,” Smolinski, who works in the University’s Art and Design department, designed the piece back in 2007, and it was last seen at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA) back in 2008 in an exhibit called “Badlands: New Horizons in Landscape,” for which the tree was commissioned.

In an interview with a representative from Mixed Greens Gallery in New York, NY, which, along with the University, supported Smolinski in his creation of “Tree Turbine,” Smolinski said: “Trees continue to permeate my work not only through their religious, political and personal histories, but also as means to question technology and the future of the natural world.”
Back in December, Laura Marsh, the director of the Seton Gallery, UNH’s on-campus art gallery, and an instructor in the Art and Design Department, sent an email out to the campus community explaining the function of “Tree Turbine” and giving some background to its creation by Smolinski.

In her email, Marsh said: “Smolinski’s work stems from an interest in the now-ubiquitous fake trees used to camouflage roadside cell phone towers… Tree Turbine… imagines redesigned wind turbines that finally overcome the aesthetic argument against them as a clean energy source.”

After reading an article in the New York Times about wind power in New England, Smolinski began to research wind power as an alternative energy resource, thus inspiring his project.
After noticing that the primary complaint regarding wind power was that the wind turbines were not aesthetically pleasing, Smolinski decided to create a turbine that was inspired by the design of old cell phone towers that were shaped like trees.

With the help of the Tagliatela College of Engineering, Smolinski created an animated concept video detailing the expectations of the project’s outcome and began working on the project in 2007. Various professors and students in both the Tagliatela College of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences assisted Smolinski in the design and assembly of “Tree Turbine,” which opened in May 2008.

While there are many other works of art featured on campus, this is the University’s first kinetic sculpture. Powered solely by electricity generated from wind power, the tree, which can be found in between Celentano and Botwinik Halls, spins and lights up, with the help of its rock generator.

While the “greenness” of “Tree Turbine” (pun intended) is obvious, it has garnered mixed reviews from students. Many students, while initially confused by the sculpture’s sudden appearance on campus, appreciate its intended statement and aesthetic.

“I personally love it,” says junior Sami Higgins, 20. “I think UNH is constantly going above and beyond to stand out and give students and staff the opportunities to showcase their talents and their work and this is a perfect example of that. ‘Tree Turbine’ shows off the talent of one of UNH’s faculty, and it serves a greater purpose by being able to generate enough electricity to light itself.”
Some students, like Mary Perucci, 19, have strong opinions on Tree Turbine and its installation at UNH. “I think the school could have used the money for something the school needed more than [installing] a wind turbine that doesn’t even produce enough energy to do much of anything,” says Perucci.

Others are less offended by the sculpture. “I don’t think that it’s terrible,” says Celentano Hall resident Michael Quick, 21. “It’s just not very pleasing to look at and I don’t really understand the point of the installation, but it doesn’t make me furious every time I walk past it.”

Regardless, “Tree Turbine” is here to stay, at least for the time being. For more information on the sculpture or Smolinski’s process, feel free to visit

Joe Smolinski and Laura Marsh were contacted and could not be reached for comment in time for the publication of this article.