Daan Roosegaarde does magic with light

New public art work Icoon Afsluitdijk

Dutch designer and innovator Daan Roosegaarde keeps on amazing us with his energy-generating dance floors, interactive sustainable roads, his Smog Free Project that cleans polluted air, and many other adventures combining innovation, poetry and sustainability. Often light plays a major role. Roosegaarde and his team are currently preparing the grand opening of 'Icoon Afsluitdijk', the causeway connecting North Holland and Friesland (the Netherlands), in which light is again paramount.

In the art works of Daan Roosegaarde often light plays a major role. © Studio Roosegaarde

"Light is communication. Look at the stars: they bring information from the past, packed in light raging towards us at 300 km per second", says the man who has been fascinated by light since his childhood. "Since I started night diving, my fascination has only increased – I am truly mesmerized by nature, and by natural light. Light entails interaction." No surprise light and interaction are somehow involved in most of Daan Roosegaarde’s projects.

Icoon Afsluitdijk comprises the creation of a subtle layer of light. © Studio Roosegaarde
Get in your car and experience this unique work in the dark. © Studio Roosegaarde

In its most recent project, Studio Roosegaarde is again creating magic through light: Icoon Afsluitdijk comprises the creation of a subtle layer of light and interaction on an iconic 32-kilometre-long dike that protects the Netherlands against flooding. The floodgates designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas’ grandfather and built mostly by hand in 1932, the dike is a highlight of Dutch engineering.

"Dikes are sacred in the Netherlands. We Dutch have been living just below sea level for 1000 years now. Fighting against the water has become part of our identity; it’s our shared narrative. Creativity, a tenacious drive to innovate, and a daring, free way of thinking are needed to make such a victory over nature possible and sustainable."

The Afsluitdijk is a gorgeous and robust example of that attitude, which now after 85 years needs a thorough renovation. Asked by the Dutch government to enhance its iconic status, Studio Roosegaarde presents three designs of light and interaction, called GATES OF LIGHT, WINDVOGEL and GLOWING NATURE. Studio Roosegaarde invites us to get in our car (the dyke is a highway, too) and experience this unique piece of Dutch civil engineering work in the dark.

The GATES OF LIGHT are the entrance at both sides of the dyke. © Studio Roosegaarde

"Everything with LEDs and cables would have died there in the sea", Daan Roosegaarde explains. "So we chose to work with what was already there. For the GATES OF LIGHT entrance at both sides of the dyke we’ve applied retro-reflective prisms to the buildings, which light up by the headlamps of passing cars. Drive through GATES OF LIGHT after sunset and bring the floodgates to life through the headlamps of your car, as an alternative to polluting street lights!"

WINDVOGEL: These kites create a magnificent poetic night installation of dancing lines on the Afsluitdijk. © Studio Roosegaarde

With WINDVOGEL, Studio Roosegaarde realized late Dutch astronaut Wubbo Ockels’ dream to create power generating smart kites. Each WINDVOGEL kite generates 20 to 100 kW, supplying energy for 200 households. All together these kites create a magnificent poetic night installation of dancing lines on the Afsluitdijk.

Light plays a major role. © Studio Roosegaarde

GLOWING NATURE shows the beauty of nature on the Afsluitdijk in one of its historical bunkers. Studio Roosegaarde works with live algae, one of the oldest microorganisms in the world. “I got the idea when I was night diving in Asia. If you go through the water at night, it lights up due to the presence of algae. This fascinated me, so in collaboration with biologists we started breeding these algae and covered the bunker on the dikewith a thin algae layer. If you walk on it, they light up. Thus we’ve created the world's largest luminous algae site!"

As always, this work by Studio Roosegaarde is the result of lots of research and trial and error. "We make a lot of prototypes and we fail a lot", Daan Roosegaarde proudly says. Driven by the marvels of nature, he’s fascinated by such things as the light emitted by algae and fireflies, and is equally fond of technology, all of which is reflected in iconic designs. His particularly innovative approach leads to the dynamic, interactive works for which this creative thinker is known.

Icoon Afsluitdijk is on view 17 November – 21 January, after sunset
53° 0′ NB, 5° 10′ OL

Roosegaarde has won various international design and art awards. © Studio Roosegaarde

Designer and innovator Daan Roosegaarde (1979) is known internationally for his social designs. With his team of designers and engineers at Studio Roosegaarde in Rotterdam, he creates designs aimed at improving the relationship between man and space. Roosegaarde has won various international design and art awards, and had exhibitions at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Tate Modern in London and in public spaces across the globe. Interaction, innovation and beauty are key in what he himself describes as “techno-poetry”.

Sustainable Dance Floor by Studio Roosegaarde. © Studio Roosegaarde
Smog Free Tower by artist Daan Roosegaarde. © Studio Roosegaarde
Van Gogh-Roosegaarde bicycle path. ©
Studio Roosegaarde

[Article in cooperation with DAMNº]