These Dutch Art Projects Make Climate Adaptation Beautiful

Image: Studio Roosegarde
Image: Studio Roosegarde

You, dumb (OK, me): climate change is bad and we’re screwed. The Dutch, smart: climate change is bad but also we can solve this with dope design.

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At least, that’s the message from three new installations by Studio Roosegarde, a Rotterdam-based firm that specializes in human-oriented solutions to global problems. In the Netherlands, that means coping with the rising seas.

A third of the nation is at or below sea level, including nearly all of Rotterdam. For years, the Dutch have used an intricate series of dykes to hold the ocean back, and floating houses to ride the tide. That’s gotten the job done, but the structures have been a bit, uh, utilitarian.

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Studio Roosegarde decided to spruce up a few of the projects in a way that makes climate adaptation beautiful. The projects also reduce energy use and even generate their own renewable power in an effort to show that maybe we can actually solve this climate change thing and still live our best lives.

The projects are funded by the Dutch government under the very cool moniker Icoon Afsluitdijk. They’re all centered around Afsluitdijk, which Studio Roosegarde describes as a “legendary 32 kilometer Dutch dike,” a label that only makes sense coming from the Dutch.

Each of the projects highlights the heritage of the historic causeway, which has helped with flood control about 70 miles north of Amsterdam for 85 years. The first installation is called Gates of Light. Studio Roosegarde illuminated the floodgates at either end of the causeway without using any electricity. Instead, the outlines of the gates are lit by passing cars when their headlights beam off ultra-reflective small prisms.

Image: Studio Roosegarde
Image: Studio Roosegarde
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The second installation, Glowing Nature, uses bioluminescent algae to show another form of electricity-free lighting, and to bring visitors closer to nature. The exhibit is hidden in a bunker near the dike. Bioluminescent algae are displayed in containers, and even in a special room where visitors can walk on them to trigger the otherworldly glow.

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Though your house is likely not going to be lit using glowing microscopic organisms any time soon, Studio Roosegarde said in a statement that the algae represent “a building block in our circular economy.”

They’re also just damn cool, and a reminder we live on a planet that’s one of a kind. This is what Daan Roosegarde, head of the studio, told Co.Design about the experience meeting the algae face-to-face:

“It’s living light. It’s hard to describe the intimate feeling of standing on an organism that’s ancient enough to be our evolutionary ancestor. It’s immersive and it’s humbling.”

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The final exhibit is Windvogel, a series of kites that also glow at night (sensing a theme here?) thanks to electricity they generate by waving around in the sky. As the kites move, the push and pull on the cable they’re attached to generates the juice. The kites are a proof of concept of a new way of gathering energy for free from the wind, and the prototype generates enough electricity to power 200 Dutch homes.

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Taken together, the projects show that humans aren’t down for the count yet, and there are ingenious climate solutions out there. And hey, they can actually look pretty cool, too.

Image: Studio Roosegarde
Image: Studio Roosegarde
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Managing editor, Earther

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DISCUSSION

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Dense non aqueous phase liquid

As long as folks come away from that with a better appreciation of the conservation of mass and energy, knowing that mass and energy can’t be created or destroyed in an isolated system - than the art served its purpose. Caveat: that system earth is defined somewhere between the atmosphere and its gravitational field. And yes, mass escaping in the form of light gases and rocket ships to planets and beyond is insignificant with respect to earth’s enormous mass. Nerds.

However, art for anything other than its own sake usually falls flat. Art becomes quickly a commodity like wine and Andy Warhol’s napkin scribbles.

For instance, this piece of public art was to engage shoppers at Cermak Plaza on Chicago(lands) west side:

Along with this piece:

The intention of the patron (the late 1940s shopping mall developer) and artists was to inspire folks that their fucked up consumer lifestyle of shopping, driving and throwing shit away all willy nilly was bad for system earth. It came down about seven years ago. The sculpture is in storage if the Dutch want it.

The kar-kabob above just pissed off taxpayers after getting a $50,000 to $100,000 bill from the owner of the stripmall to pay for pressure washing bird shit. The hunk of trash pissed off McDonalds, given the obvious reasons of waste generation from getting Meal Number 2 at the drive through.

Nonetheless, it did make the white ethnics and later latinos think. I’m not sure what it was they thought. However, there may have been a master’s thesis from an art history student, though.