More than 1,000 historic windmills dot the Dutch countryside. Built from stone and wood, the mills are a charming symbol of the country’s long relationship with water and flooding. The Dutch are proud of their windmills (heck, they’ve built an entire tourism ecosystem around them) but today, these relics of energy past are outnumbered by a new kind of mill. The Netherlands has installed more than 2,000 wind turbines across the country, giving rise to a new kind of landscape aesthetic—one that not everybody is a fan of.

“There’s a lot of ‘I want it, but I don’t want to see it,’” says Daan Roosegaarde. “I think that’s weird. I think they’re beautiful, to be honest.” Roosegaarde is a designer known for his work at the intersection of design and sustainability. He’s the same guy behind the Smart Highway and Smog Tower. Now, his most recent project, “Windlicht,” is paying homage to wind energy in the form of a light show.

Roosegaarde and his team of creative technologists outfitted four turbines in the seaside village of Zeeland with technology that allowed them to visualize the motion of the machines. “I wanted to emphasize the dance, the choreography, the almost meditative state of being when I look at them,” he says. “So we just drew a line from one to the other.” Roosegaarde figured his idea would be simple enough—it’s just a line of light, after all. “It took us two years,” he says.

The green beams of light travel 1,600 feet from the top of one turbine to a blade on the next with arrow-like precision. The thing is, despite their graceful appearance, wind turbines aren’t exactly stable. The blades can rotate at up to 174 mph, and weather conditions near the top of the turbine are often turbulent. “It’s like being on a ship in the ocean in a storm,” Roosegaarde says. His team spent two years developing technology that accounts for variations in wind, so that each LED could precisely follow a blade as it rotates:

WINDLICHT-by-Roosegaarde-OFFICIAL-MOVIE2.gif Studio Roosegaarde

At the top of each turbine is a stabilized box containing all the technology needed to emit the beam of light. This includes a high-density LED and thermal camera for tracking its blade’s movement. A micro-controller programmed with software accounts for any turbulence encountered at the top of the turbine and is able to accurately predict how quickly and variably the blades will move. “There’s a lot of checking, balancing, and predicting to make sure it stays on track,” he says.

The resulting light show is mesmerizing in its simplicity. Four lines of light pierce through a dark sky, creating a disjointed dance between the turbines as they spin in and out of sync. In the video above, one onlooker describes it as “jumping rope with the wind.” Another says it could be “Kinderdijk 2.0,” a technologically advanced version of the Netherlands’ most famous historical windmills. And certainly, “Windlicht” is beautiful in the way projects visualizing the unseen often are—it almost seems magical. On a much grander scale (just think about the wind farms that line California’s roadsides) a vision like Roosegaarde’s could transform the landscape into a sprawling, dynamic, spectacle that quite literally shows the beauty of wind energy.


Transforming Wind Turbines Into a Mesmerizing Light Show