Amazing Places

The Gates of Light Are a Stunning Energy-Free Lighting Scheme

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The Netherlands is a place where climate change hits close to home. When you're already below sea level, the prospect that the sea might start rising becomes disastrous. So when a historic causeway needed renovations to combat the rising water, the Dutch found an elegant lighting solution that simultaneously fights energy consumption and light pollution by lighting up only when cars are driving past — no electricity required.

Lighting the Way

Basically all of Holland is an engineering marvel. It takes a lot of work and a lot of planning to drive back the ocean with a series of sea walls, known as dikes. And of those dikes, the Afsluitdijk is one of the most impressive. Built in 1932, it spans a full 20 miles (32 kilometers) from North Holland to Zurich, giving drivers a direct route over the ocean. But it's not just the causeway's length that's impressive. The salty sea to the north, once filtered through the Afsluitdijk, comes into the freshwater lake IJsselmeer on the south side.

It's clear to see why the Netherlands are so proud of the Afsluitdijk. And even clearer what a big deal it would be if it were allowed to fall into disrepair. When the rising sea meant a full-on renovation was needed, the Dutch commissioned design firm Studio Roosegaarde to ensure the project had style and purpose. The most dramatic improvement made by lead designer Daan Roosegaarde was to bring bright light to the long, dark bridge by reflecting the headlights of drivers on the road.

The Gates of Light are built into the massive floodgates at either end of the extra-long causeway. Their design is inspired by the iridescent sparkling of butterfly wings. They scatter cars' bright headlights over the road, illuminating their surroundings without requiring any additional energy consumption. Better still, they cut back on light pollution in one of the most light-polluted places on the planet, since the 32-mile road stays in the dark until a car drives past.

All of the Lights

The Gates of Light are the most prominent new eco-friendly feature of the Afsluitdijk (we're really never going to get sick of typing that), but it's not Studio Roosegaarde's only improvement. From November 2017 to January 2018, the Friesland bunker nearby was home to "Glowing Nature," where visitors could interact with natural bio-luminescent algae. And during the same time, "Windvogel" cast spotlights above the road using wind power from kites high above the ground. According to some estimates, the clean energy these kinds of structures produce could power up to 200 Dutch homes. It's proof that future is looking bright.

For more on eco-friendly power, check out "Our Renewable Future: Laying the Path for One Hundred Percent Clean Energy" by Richard Heinberg and David Fridley. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

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Written by Reuben Westmaas March 30, 2018