Lighthouse, A house with a beacon


January 2017


Long before satellite navigation, GPS and sonar techniques, our brave sailors relied on a network of light signals, warning them for shallow waters, unexpected cliffs or harbour entries. The duty of maintaining and keeping up these light sources was a difficult and respected job that went hand in hand with the latest engineering techniques of the previous 23 centuries.


Dating back to great Pharos of Alexandria, the first fires that marked our most important trading routes are seen as one of engineers' greatest achievements. From the open fires to gaslight lamps, the Fresnel lens and laser beams, technological inventions were triggered by greater demands and more challenging locations where these structures had to rise.

For our bachelor diploma-project in the summer of 2016 we took de term lighthouse literally and asked our students to develop a dwelling for a lighthouse keeper, a house with a beacon.

The profession of lighthouse keeper triggers our imagination, partly because it is a recurring theme in novels and films. Yet at the same time this profession is somehow forgotten or remote. Taking this as a starting point, we have tutored our students to work within a fictive framework. Asking them to develop their own program for the lighthouse keeper by working on a story or narrative.

These narratives are in turn triggered by the real, yet fictive location, a remote island they would never set foot on. We made a selection of the most isolated and uninhabited islands from the acclaimed book by graphic designer Judith Schalansky, The Atlas of Remote Islands.From the cold seas of both Arctic regions to the archipelagos in the Pacific Ocean, every island had a remarkable topography, historical context and many challenges for our students to solve.

One of the biggest challenges was to build on a remote and isolated island where not every building material can be shipped to. We tutored our students in the direction of vernacular architecture and favoured the use of local materials and building techniques. Because of the skills that are required for our bachelor diploma, we let them develop and build (1:2) their own details. Turning this extremely fictive project into something tangible and authentic.

Because of the fictive component within the project and the wide range of different climates, topographies, programs and building materials, the variation of lighthouses was enormous. From cathedral-like structures build from ice and snow to pneumatic greenhouses, from working with local masonry and bamboo to the re-use of abandoned structures. The students surprised us with their enthusiasm, creative solutions and working methods. The achieved results satisfied both students and educators.

The selection that is shown here is a preview of an article that will be published in one of our expected Writingplace journals, literary methods in architecture education. More information expected in 2017.

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Students: Lina Kadir, Matthias Bläsius, Hendrik Hermans, Simon Schlootz, Charlotte Decker, Marie-Luise Drilling