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Daan Roosegaarde uses “light recipes” to show how agriculture could be more sustainable


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Grow installation by Studio Roosegaarde

Studio Roosegaarde has unveiled Grow, a 20,000-square-metre light installation designed to highlight the beauty of agriculture while also improving crop growth.

The Rotterdam-based studio, led by designer Daan Roosegaarde, used red, blue and ultraviolet lights to transform a field into a dynamic artwork.

As well as creating a visual spectacle, the installation serves as a prototype for how certain “light recipes” can be used to increase plant growth and reduce the use of pesticides by up to 50 per cent.

People walking through Grow installation by Studio Roosegaarde
Grow is a 20,000-square-metre light installation in a Dutch field

The first ideas for the project came after an early morning visit to the farm. As a self-confessed urbanite, Roosegaarde told Dezeen he had spent very little time exploring the Netherlands’ agricultural landscape, so was amazed to experience it first hand.

Despite being a relatively small country, the Netherlands is one of the world’s largest producers of vegetables, second only to the United States, and has established itself as a pioneer of highly efficient farming techniques.

“We thought we should highlight the beauty of this agriculture,” said Roosegaarde. “These vast fields feed us, but nobody sees it.”

Girl walking through Grow installation by Studio Roosegaarde
Lights turn the crops into a visual spectacle, but also helps to improve growth

Shortly after, Roosegaarde became aware of advancements in photobiological lighting technology. Research suggests that certain combinations of light can not only strengthen plant metabolism but also create resistance to both pests and disease.

Although the technology has been used in greenhouses, Roosegaarde saw an opportunity to test its potential at a larger scale.

Close-up of crops in Grow installation by Studio Roosegaarde
The “light recipe” combines specific types of red, blue and ultraviolet light

“A specific ultraviolet light activates the defence system of plants. And what is interesting is that it works on all crops,” the designer explained. “So we can reduce the use of pesticides.”

Pesticides are known to have a significantly harmful effect on biological diversity, one of the pillars of sustainability. If the farming industry was able to reduce reliance on them, it would be of great benefit to the environment.

Red light in Grow installation by Studio Roosegaarde
These lights can strengthen plant metabolism and create resistance to pests and disease

Studio Roosegaarde created Grow with high-density LEDs positioned at different points around the field.

The devices move up and down, distributing the light evenly across the field. As they move, they create dancing patterns that are hypnotic to watch. “It’s very futuristic and also very romantic, in a way,” suggested Roosegaarde.

Wide view of Grow installation by Studio Roosegaarde
Grow is the latest of several large-scale light installations Roosegaarde has created

The effect is similar to some of the other large-scale installations Roosegaarde has created in the past like Waterlicht, which mimicked the effect of the Northern Lights as a way to highlight a flood plain.

However, the designer sees Grow as a project with a bigger audience. His plan is to take it around the world, with different light recipes formulated to suit different crops.

Farmer at Grow installation by Studio Roosegaarde
The designer hopes to promote the role of the farmer as a hero

Roosegaarde’s aim is to help to speed up the application of this science, but also to create a more universal appreciation for the important role of farmers, who he describes as heroes.

“I want to design things which make people curious about the future, not sad or mad,” added Roosegaarde. “Light is my language. Light is not decoration, it’s activation and it’s communication.”

Grow was commissioned by Rabobank, for the bank’s ongoing artist-in-residence programme. The ambition is for the project to tour all 40 countries where the bank operates.

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