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Data Art arrives in Utrecht

Last updated 2 years ago by Jon Wilkins

How the city of the future is made via data art

Open Highway and Solid Cinema show solutions for the urban issues of the 21st century

On 27 February  at Cultuurplein RAUM in Utrecht, the city will be two data art works richer.

Open Highway, an imposing light installation that shows the stratification of the future city, and Solid Cinema, a static object that transforms the passers-by into a 360 ° light show. The new art installations of design studio RNDR and artist Gosse de Kort are the result of an open call from RAUM. Both creations show an alternative view of the urban issues of the 21st century.

14 lichtbalken verbeelden realtime verkeer door Leidsche Rijntunnel. © Juri Hiensch

Open Highway

Open Highway is a real-time lighting installation on the Berlinplein in Utrecht. It was developed by the Dutch design studio RNDR and mimics the cars on the basis of public data that are currently on the A2 motorway. A motorway that is (literally) located below the Berlin square. The data to simulate the vehicles comes from the National Road Traffic Data Database which daily measures the speed and amount of traffic passing through the Leidsche Rijntunnel.

RNDR shows with the work that the future of the city is literally layered: infrastructure is ‘tucked away’ to make way for new urban neighborhoods. When Leidsche Rijn is completed in 2030, approximately 110,000 people will live there. The Berlinplein and Leidsche Rijn Centrum exist by the grace of the tunnel over the A2. The tunnel ensures that the Leidsche Rijn district forms a single entity, free of nuisance from cars on the motorway, and connects the area with the rest of the city. Open Highway reveals the hidden highway, the first layer in the new history of this neighborhood. It offers a glimpse into a future in which infrastructure no longer plays the dominant role we know in the present time. Open Highway is thus a visual translation of how infrastructure and data are in the service of citizens.

De schaal is 1:1 – precies even groot als de onderliggende A2. © Juri Hiensch

The work consists of fourteen red and white light bars of eleven meters long. The shape and placement correspond exactly to two times three lanes. Seven red light bars represent the cars in the direction of Den Bosch and seven white lamps towards Amsterdam. The artwork has a surface of roughly 30 x 40 meters – the scale is 1: 1 – just as large as the underlying A2. In each light segment a so-called linear actuator is installed, which at the same time gives a physical “tap” to the metal of the light bars. The result is that the sound moves in space, parallel to the light. The sound is reminiscent of vehicles that drive along the highway marking on the highway. Spectators can walk through the lights and explore the space freely. In the nearby RAUM pavilion there is a big screen that shows the real-time traffic data with detailed speeds and the total capacity of the motorway.

eder pad in de ruimte leidt tot een unieke beeldsequentie. © David Galjaard

Solid Cinema

Traditionally, architecture is considered to be static, a building usually stands still. But not if it is the Dutch artist Gosse de Kort. “When you walk through a building, your experience of the building changes continuously while the building remains the same,” says de Kort. He has translated this vision into Solid Cinema, his lighting installation now on the RAUM site. The solid artwork consists of 1600 unique ‘pixels’ that are only visible in specific directions by means of 3D printed luminaires, allowing the image to be changed from any angle and distance. People who drive along the artwork in the bus experience something different than the people walking past the artwork. Something that we are also confronted with in our daily lives. The way we move affects what we perceive and how we see the world.

In order to make this work, data, 3D printing technology, complex software and computing time are required. On a technical level, creating Solid Cinema was therefore a challenge. After analyzing the use of the environment, different light images were assigned to 40 ‘positions’ in the room. These light images were then converted to recesses in the luminaires around the pixels. In total, this produces 1600 unique 3D printed luminaires, each different in form and lighting. A too complicated process to carry out by hand, so de Kort developed a parametric software in collaboration with programmer Gerard Petersen.

The special thing about this software is that it can also be used for practical purposes in the future. Think of (a form of) signaling that can show different messages according to the angle in which you look at them. A targeted way of providing information that prevents unnecessary light pollution in the environment and can also be combined with an experience component. Gosse de Kort puts Solid Cinema on the importance of art for science.

Open call RAUM

Once or twice a year, RAUM calls on artists, designers and architects to take on the challenges of today’s and tomorrow’s ‘wicked problems’. RAUM invites them to think about the current and future living environment, the way we want to live together and how we want to and can give direction to that. Inspired by one of RAUM’s artistic themes – meeting, ownership and data – the Makers in Residence devise a project or work that is developed and executed in residence at RAUM.


RNDR is a design studio for interactive media. They design digital tools that can convert data into information, information in knowledge, and knowledge in stories. RNDR develops, programs and creates interactions. In doing so, they are influenced by information and technology networks, cultures, societies, relationships, and behaviors and interactions between people. www.rndr.studio

Gosse de Kort

Gosse de Kort studied Architecture at TU Delft and ArtScience at the Conservatory in The Hague. His work takes place at the edges of the architectural and theatrical. An architect of experiences and dramaturge of spatiality. He develops experience scenarios by combining the expressive potential of a space with the possibilities of composing in time. www.gossedekort.com


RAUM is a cultural square where exhibitions, events and an online program allow people to dream about the future of the city, to make it together. It portrays visions of the city and society by making use of the power of art and design. In the public city square and in the program, RAUM examines the future of meeting, ownership and data. They do this with creators (artists, architects and designers) as well as residents, companies, visitors and education. www.raumutrecht.nl

Jon Wilkins
Jon Wilkins
Jon Wilkins is Welsh and lives in England. He is a writer. A Europhile and Remainer, he is a regular visitor to Utrecht and has set his crime novel series in the city.


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