When the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam debuted its renovated Philips Wing in November, curious modern flora bloomed over its 18th-century staircase. The Shylights by Dutch designers Studio Drift are a new permanent installation of “performative light sculptures” that blossom like flowers.
As Lonneke Gordijn, one of the designers of the lights, says in a video on their creation released this month, the studio wanted to find the exact moment where an object “starts to come alive.” When a visitor enters the space, she explains, “it becomes kind of a dance that is performed in front of you.” Five silk forms descend from a height of about 30 feet, gravity opening folds of silk that reveal an intricate interior of petal-like layers, before a motor pulls them back up into buds. Designers Gordijn, Ralph Nauta, and Jozeph Hendricks of Studio Drift went through six generations of Shylights from 2010 to 2014 before the version in the Rijksmuseum.
Studio Drift often incorporates the natural world into its design work, whether it’s Flylight with patterns of illumination mimicking the movement of flocks of birds, or Fragile Future III where real dandelions are connected to bronze circuits, a work acquired by the Victoria & Albert Museum. As the studio explained for Shylight:
Certain types of flowers close at night, for self-defense and to conserve their resources. This highly evolved natural mechanism is called nyctinasty, and inspired Studio Drift to create Shylight, a light sculpture that unfolds and retreats in a fascinating choreography mirroring that of real flowers.
Botanical forms have inspired other designers, such as Patrick Jouin with his 3D-printed “Bloom” lamp that can be opened to different degrees to change the level of light, or Mark Champkins who designed a light shade for Science Museum London (as its in-house inventor, best job ever!), which over five minutes opens to reveal its light. The Shylights are a major contrast to the ornate figures embossed on the 18th-century ceiling, but through the kinetic tribute to the simple, startling movement of a flower in bloom, they can draw eyes up into the space to view both the old and the new.