IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Architect Michiel Raaphorst (V8 Architects)
"Technology can’t be abstract if we want to solve scarcity problems"
By: Jessica Merkens
Photo's: V8 architects (Jeroen Musch and Aiste Rakauskaite)
Together with solar designer Marjan van Aubel architect Michiel Raaphorst designed the Solar Pavilion for the 2022 Dutch Design Week. A huge brightly coloured installation shaped like a giant beach chair showed both the power and beauty of solar energy. Is the sun our solution to the energy crisis?
Can you remember a specific moment in your life that you were captivated by architecture?
“That’s a personal story. I grew up in a house that was permanently under construction. My father renovated our own house, basically. Every hour of the day I was confronted with stairs that moved to another position, walls that were repositioned. I also had a fascination for drawing and creating my own world and stories. So at ten years old I was already saying, ‘I want to become an architect’. Later on there were many moments in my life when I thought I wanted to quit architecture, haha.”
“I was bored. Especially during my studies I found that everything was minimised or limited to analysis. I disliked the lack of freedom you could say. For me the power of architecture is to use your imagination. To create something that is meaningful to people, sometimes based on your own intuition. So yeah, that’s my love and hate relationship with architecture.”
Do you have one idea sitting in the of back your mind that you would want to create if you have limitless time and money?
“No. I say this because limitlessness is not a solution to our problems. We live in a time of scarcity. We have lack of labor, money, space, energy, food, water, you name it. You could even say we have lack of fresh air. As designers we need to find solutions to work within these limits. To work with less materials, less money. And that’s actually far more interesting, too”
Photo: V8 architects
You cooperated with solar designer Marjan van Aubel on the World Expo in Dubai in 2021. Can you remember the first time you saw Marjan van Aubel? What was your impression of her?
“Our first contact was through a telephone call. As architects we were involved in the competition for the Netherlands Pavilion for the World Expo. We wanted to create a podium for all kinds of artists and innovators to find a solution for scarcity of water, energy and food. How can we make a liveable environment in the middle of the desert? It also meant harvesting energy from the sun through solar cell panels in a beautiful new way. I asked if she wanted to participate and contribute to the Pavilion. In our first brainstorm sessions we talked about creating a gigantic roof window, and putting Marjans artwork in it.
What I like very much about Marjan is that she understands that you need imagination and a meaningful representation of technology for people to accept, love and appreciate it. With her projects she makes it possible for people to experience technology. So that it’s not just something that happens in a black box far away. It’s part of your daily life.”
We wanted to bring solar energy closer to people
Her solar designs are real artworks, they look like modern age stained glass. I was captivated by the beauty of it. I didn’t know solar energy could look different than these standard black and blue panels we see on rooftops.
“Yes, it’s beautiful. For the World Expo, a foil with organic transparent solar cells was placed between two glass panels. Marjan created a graphic in blue, pink and orange. Sunlight hit the solar panels and it cast coloured shadows and patterns. It was a play of light. We called it the Cathedral of Steel. And it was completely demountable. After the Expo ended, Marjan just rolled up her solar panels and took them on the plane back home.”
For the 2022 Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven you created a gigantic Solar Pavilion together with Marjan van Aubel. What did it look like?
“With solar panels we developed a technology to harvest energy from the sun, but we haven’t found a way to properly integrate them in our built environment. We put them on roofs or in ugly solar panel fields on the countryside. We wanted to bring solar energy closer to the people. We put four poles on the ground, and between those poles we hung a cloth of around 400 coloured solar panels that are oriented towards the sun. It looks like a giant beach chair. At the lowest point of this cloth a stair leads towards a hole. You could stick your head through that hole and see al these beautiful coloured solar panels in a gradient from red to blue, fading in the sky. You were right in the center of it all, it was the sunspot. There you could really feel the energy of the sun.
Under the cloth of solar panels we hung a maze of light fixtures from TRILUX. They were powered by solar energy during the day. At nighttime the ceiling radiated. Even after sundown people could experience the power of the sun, through heat and light.”
Photo: V8 architects
Some visitors got goosebumps
What was one lesson you learned from the Solar Pavilion and the World Expo?
“As architects we are busy with new innovative concepts on a day to day basis, such as coloured solar panels. But for 90 percent of the population, it is completely new. We need to be mindful of that. We saw visitors that got goosebumps, some started crying. Because they were confronted with the power of nature. It sounds a bit fake perhaps when I say this, but I think that at these moments you feel that you’re connected to our planet.
We see innovations and technology as synthetic solutions. It becomes very digital and virtual and far away from our daily life. But technology is not only synthetic, it’s also about people. Technology can’t be abstract if we want to solve scarcity problems. It should be meaningful and always have a connection with natural phenomena, so people can understand how it works. Only then we can be more mindful about our energy consumption and not spoil it. We need to understand where our resources come from to see that they are not endless.”
Curious about Michiel's whole story?
Architect Michiel Raaphorst (V8 architects) on technology and scarcity problems