The legendary 32km Dutch Afsluitdijk dike, built by hand in 1932, has not only been safeguarding the Netherlands from the North Sea for 85 years, but is also a solid verification of the nation’s leading position in the field of hydraulic engineering works and water management. ‘It is Dutch pride, and our heritage,’ says Daan Roosegaarde, the designer commissioned by the Dutch government to create the three-part design programme ‘Icoon Afsluitdijk’, to celebrate the monumental site and inspire the country towards an innovative future.
‘Who lives below sea level? We must be a little crazy for that,’ says Roosegaarde. The history of the dike goes back to the 1880s, when Dutch engineer Cornelis Lely (1854–1929) conceived the largest land reclamation project in human history. ‘We try to find harmony and live with the water; on one hand, we have a lot of knowledge about it, but on the other, we are also scared about it. And with design we created our own country – without design we would all drown.’ That mentality and the relationship between artificial and natural elements are obvious in Roosegaarde’s oeuvre.
The three interrelated concepts in his installation examine the future of smart landscapes and of energy and light. ‘Gates Of Light’ gifted the dike a futuristic new entrance. The 60 mammoth floodgates (designed by Dirk Roosenburg, grandfather of Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas) underwent a major clean-up and restoration before the designer covered them with retroreflective layers which, when caught in the headlamps of passing cars, appear to light up. If there are no cars, the structures are not illuminated. ‘This way of using light requires zero energy and does not contribute to light pollution,’ says Roosegaarde.
'Gates Of Light’ by Daan Roosegaarde
When going through archive materials related to the Afsluitdijk, Roosegaarde came across a plan by the late Dutch astronaut Wubbo Ockels to harvest energy by flying kites at the dike. Together with the Delft University of Technology, Roosegaarde has realised this notion in the form of ‘Windvogel’, which has the potential to create up to 100 kW and supply up to 200 households with green energy. While flying, the kites generate and transmit energy through a specially designed fibre cable connecting to the stations on the ground, while simultaneously creating beautiful dancing lines in the sky.
‘Glowing Nature’ further illustrates the relationship between humans, nature and technology. Housed in one of the historical bunkers at the Friesland end of the dike is an interactive experience with live bioluminescent algae. The pitch-dark room lights up as the algae below the floor glow under the pressure of footsteps. ‘We have one of the oldest microorganisms in the world which gives us light; there [is] hidden energy everywhere for us to discover and harvest,’ explains Roosegaarde. ’We can make an energy-neutral landscape which is beautiful at the same time. Design should be more curious towards that future.’