SUNSEEKER by VANTOT Photo: Max Kneefel
9 February 2021 Case

SUNSEEKER and the power of collaboration

In 2018, VANTOT won the SolarSquare Design Challenge for their first design of the SUNSEEKER. The commission from the municipality of Eindhoven and Solliance: design a work of art using Solliance flexible solar panels for the future Victoria Park in Eindhoven.

In October 2018, Solliance, in collaboration with the municipality of Eindhoven and Dutch Design Foundation (DDF), approached designers with the idea to apply and integrate flexible solar panels for the future Victoria Park in Eindhoven. Ten designers and design studios were selected for DDF’s What if Lab, three of which would go on to develop their design: Studio Toer, VANTOT, and Studio Bas Sala. Esther Jongsma and Sam van Gurp, the designers behind VANTOT, won the challenge – ten thousand euros – to develop the idea of sustainable and interactive lights further.

VANTOT immediately turned the idea around by NOT designing a work of art for the public space. “We work on the cutting edge of design and art. As lighting experts, it makes sense for us to make something applied using solar technology”, say the designers, “so that we can stay close to who we are and do what we do best”. Preferring to add something to the park that also highlights their own design studio, they launch and initiate more comprehensive projects for public space, in addition to interior lighting.

DDF, What if Lab, and Eindhoven Design District are all about the power of creativity and try to connect the power of design with partners to strengthen the design community, make innovation possible, and bring solutions to social issues. From the start, VANTOT’s independent designers turned the What if Lab project into something more personal. “We were so motivated to complete the SUNSEEKER project that we even approached others for possible collaborations”, they say.


Lighting improves a no man’s land

The future Victoria Park is centrally located, right behind De Witte Dame on the Emmasingel, but is still a no man’s land that can be quite dark at night and is partly overlooked by the surrounding high-rises during the day. Using the flexible solar panels, VANTOT has designed innovative and intelligent street lighting as a route connecting various areas. The 500-metre long, sustainable, and interactive row of lights hangs above the Victoria Park as a lantern garland, with its component parts moving on their axis and along the row with the position of the sun. The parts of this smart installation never hang in the shade unnecessarily.

With SUNSEEKER, VANTOT brings awareness to the importance of solar energy in a way that is more poetic and stimulating than what we are used to. The project immediately appealed to the municipality of Eindhoven, especially because it fits in with the ambition of creating an energy-neutral Victoria Park, which should be ready in 2023, that will provide energy to the (future) homes in the immediate vicinity. The fact that people can feel safe here at night as the lights move along with them also plays a role. The lights serve as signage, as a guide at night, and as a path connecting Strijp and the Philips Stadium to Eindhoven’s city centre and station.


Interactive garland of lights

Not many designers have experimented with the world of lighting in such a progressive and idiosyncratic way. In earlier projects such as Limpid Lights, Current Currents, and VVV, Jongsma and Van Gurp of VANTOT demonstrate that electricity is palpable, that electrical components are aesthetically pleasing and that they are a fully-fledged part of the design and do not have to be hidden in sockets or insulated cables.

With the garland of umbrella-shaped lanterns, the designers also provide a contemporary, sustainable, and interactive answer to modern static street lighting. “We challenge traditional technology companies to see and look at things differently. More often than not, they improve what already exists rather than innovate. “We have discovered that with many of our projects, there’s an enormous amount of enthusiasm when things are looked at in new ways”, says Jongsma. “The fact we were very specific in what had to be done to complete SUNSEEKER played a major role”.

They had a clear strategic plan which they split into three parts to make it manageable. First, a 3D world was created with digital Studio Roel Deden as a way for potential parties to visualize what the SUNSEEKER could look like in real life, both at night and during the day. This was followed by a prototype in a test street, and finally, the actual installation in the park. According to the designers, the interesting thing about the public space is that actual residents can be involved, rather than having something on a drawing board that is not tested with users. A sign has been posted with a QR code which anyone can use to leave feedback on VANTOT’s website. The feedback has mainly been positive.


Bringing worlds together

The municipality of Eindhoven had considerable confidence in the designers and turned out to be a perfect partner for collaboration as it recognized the importance of this project for the city and supported VANTOT in making it a success. In addition, VANTOT commenced the project independently with drive and tenacity. “It took us a year, but if you get this kind of project, it offers great opportunity to develop as a studio”, say the designers, who actually prefer not to work on commission but like to own their own designs. “A world has opened up to us which has given us new contacts and allowed us to learn a lot”, the designers explain. For instance, they gained insight into Eindhoven legislation and regulations and came into contact with Gerrit Beking of Beking automatisering, with whom VANTOT now collaborates. In turn Beking connected the designers with a number of other (local and regional) companies. The designers gained the trust of various stakeholders who contributed to the development of SUNSEEKER, such as builders, project developers, engineers, solar cell suppliers, and governments, including the municipality of Eindhoven and the province of Brabant. They were able to bring all these different worlds together.

VANTOT also founded a private company (needed to apply for subsidies) and discovered that a detailed design has to be submitted to be able to apply for subsidies. They were subsequently granted a subsidy by the province of Brabant through ‘Brabant geeft energie’, which encourages sustainable energy projects that help accelerate the energy transition.

This educational process is the start of new developments for VANTOT. SUNSEEKER, which was developed specifically for the Victoria Park, certainly has potential for the rest of the Netherlands and worldwide. And for other designers, this is perhaps can serve an example of how to launch a project independently.