Gates of Light: 32-kilometre Afsluitdijk is transformed into a work of art

The Afsluitsdijk transformed into Gates of Light. Photo: Studio Roosegaarde

The 32 kilometre Afsluitdijk isn’t just an incredibly long barrier connecting Friesland to Noord-Holland – it’s also an art installation, thanks to the work of Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde.

Roosegaarde is known for his eco-aware designs and installations: award-winning Smog Free towers that are being used to try to clean the air of China and beyond, a Van Gogh Path that glows at night like The Starry Night painting brought to life, and the Waterlicht LED light projection that illustrates how water levels could rise.

Now, he has launched Icoon Afsluitdijk, three projects playing with light and natural forces to make this famous Dutch causeway something more than a flood protector and road link.

Roosegaarde told that the projects reflect his fascination with the natural forces that inspired a history of Dutch landscape painters – as well as a Dutch icon.

‘The Afsluitdijk is sacred,’ he said, sitting in his studio in Rotterdam. ‘Dykes are holy in the Netherlands, like cows in India, or fish and chips in Britain, or the baguette in Paris. You don’t touch it.


As part of a Dutch government infrastructure project to strengthen and restore the dyke, Roosegaarde was invited to make it a showcase for Dutch innovation too.  ‘We started to look at enhancing what’s already there with three projects to make a statement about light, energy, sustainability,’ he says.

He first wanted to do something with 60 floodgates, designed by architect Dirk Roosenburg in 1932 and restored as part of the maintenance project.

‘What kind of light is already there?’ he mused. ‘The headlights of cars? What if we used reflective materials with a very high retro-reflective value? You drive through the landscape and the buildings become light emitting, and when nobody’s there, there’s no light pollution, no battery, cable or maintenance. It’s a homage to the architect and statement about 2030 highways.’

Now, after the official opening on 16 November, cars driving through at night see the silhouettes of the famous gate shapes glowing back as they pass by.

Another part of the project visible in the day is the ‘Windvogel’ (bird of the wind), realising an idea of the Dutch astronaut Wubbo Ockels to create kites that harvest the wind’s energy to supply up to 100kW of electricity – enough to power 200 households, says Studio Roosegaarde.

Working with algae in Glowing Nature. Photo: Studio Roosegaarde

Finally, the ‘maker’ has worked with experts for two years to nurture light emitting dinoflagellate algae, growing them in large plastic sacks that sit on the ground – and light up when people walk on them. ‘We’re flooding old bunkers, old industrial defence buildings,’ explains Roosegaarde. ‘The space is dark, [but] where you walk, they wake up and light up…a huge amount of light, and it’s pure nature.’

He was inspired by night dives, and the glow given off by luciferin in jellyfish – and wonders why this kind of thinking doesn’t inspire the structures of our cities. ‘It’s history but it’s also the future,’ he says. ‘Why leave streetlights burning the whole night? Why do we have batteries? It’s living light. You can drink it – you get a little bit of diarrhoea but for the rest, life is good.’

Although his projects are all about living better with the inspiration of nature, Roosegaarde isn’t a believer in stopping all consumption or going backwards: like his projects, he thinks there’s a balance. ‘I think it’s about upgrading, enhancing layers of clean air, clean energy, infiltrating, setting new standards and learning from the ancient ones,’ he adds. ‘Our designs are prototypes for tomorrow.’ has been free for 12 years, but now we are asking our readers to help. Your donation will enable us to keep providing you with fair and accurate news and features about all things Dutch.
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