Rubjerg Knude Lighthouse
The Rubjerg Knude Lighthouse is an example of architecture that owns its relationship with time.
In a discipline where fear of decay has become obsessive for some, JAJA Architects and Bessards’ Studio have come with a beautiful and refreshing approach to this idea of time taking things back. The lighthouse is the last construction left on a cliff that will soon disappear; rapidly eroding sand means that this ephemeral creation will ‘be taken by the sea’ in the near future. It is ironic that the lighthouse, with the original function of guiding navigating ships, should now be fated to crumble into the ocean. But in many ways, this also represents a life cycle that is often ignored in modern architecture.
After a large sand dune buried the Rubjerg Knude Lighthouse in 1968, the tower has been the only structure left standing on those cliffs in Lønstrup, Denmark. Despite this process of decline, JAJA Architects and Bessards’ Studio redesigned the interiors to accommodate a magnificent kaleidoscope that introduces a new atmospheric core to the lighthouse. Steel stairs, treated in a multitude of ways, lead up to the top of the tower and wrap around the tunnel of light in the center of the building. The steps themselves are perforated, allowing for a visual connection between the tower’s vertical spaces, but rusted, polished, bent and welded steel has also been used to refit the lighthouse. This warm and rough material serves the building’s temporality, as it ages and reminds visitors of the tower’s time-bound fate. But the steel also creates an atmosphere that contrasts that of the bright, reflective kaleidoscope, intensifying the experience of peering into it.
Topping off the Rubjerg Knude Lighthouse is the Uro, rotating according to the forces of the wind. Not only does it cast light down the mirrored shaft below, but it also directly echoes surrounding dunes and waves in a patchwork of rotated reflections. Just like the kaleidoscope, the Uro processes its external reality to create a recognizable, but unique and ever-changing experience of light and nature. The Uro as a visual translation of the wind, which we can feel and hear but not see, adds another layer to the visitors’ relationships with their natural surroundings. It is impossible not to be inspired by the fleeting existence of the lighthouse and everything that encompasses it; such is the power of JAJA Architects’ and Bessards’ Studio’s architectural design.
At the bottom of the kaleidoscope is an entrance where one can gaze up at the rotating Uro, or prism, as it creates dazzling patterns of light through the tower. Along the journey upward to the top of the lighthouse are two smaller openings into the kaleidoscope — little windows that reveal clues of what is going on outside, as the Uro rotates in the wind, casting light down the mirrored tunnel. Accompanying them are several windows that provide direct views of the surroundings, allowing visitors to experience the same environment through different perspectives.
When the lighthouse eventually does crumble into the sea, sometime within the next two to 15 years, the kaleidoscopic project will be dismantled and recycled or re-erected elsewhere. This life cycle of materials contains another message of preservation and memory, in a world where many of our most unique environments are being lost to climate change. The Rubjerg Knude Lighthouse is a part of a series of architectural spaces around Denmark, seeking to highlight its remarkable, but changing, landscapes, before they are lost forever.