The New Zealand Native That's Taking Over Rotterdam

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By Stephen Heyman / Published by Dwell
The sleek lighting designs of Sabine Marcelis are capturing the attention of fashion houses and architecture firms alike.

Dutch designer Sabine Marcelis grew up in New Zealand and started her design career a bit late, after trying her hand at competitive snowboarding. She eventually made it to the prestigious Design Academy Eindhoven, where her graduation project was a glass table that morphed from translucent to opaque with the flip of a switch. Marcelis has quickly risen to the top of the competitive Dutch design world, collaborating with everyone from elite fashion houses like Céline to Rem Koolhaas's architecture firm OMA. She moved to Rotterdam in 2010 to intern at Studio Roosegaarde, and fell hard for the port city, which has become a laboratory for cutting-edge architecture and design. "I like how it’s rough and sexy," she says. "It’s not like other Dutch cities with the canals and cute little houses."Age: 30  

The New Zealand Native That's Taking Over Rotterdam - Photo 1 of 6 - A lighting piece from Sabine Marcelis’s VOIE light series #1, made from neon and cast polyester resin.  

A lighting piece from Sabine Marcelis’s VOIE light series #1, made from neon and cast polyester resin.  

The New Zealand Native That's Taking Over Rotterdam - Photo 2 of 6 - A vertical piece from Sabine Marcelis’s VOIE light series #1. 

A vertical piece from Sabine Marcelis’s VOIE light series #1. 

Marcelis is interested in industrial production and innovative materials; she is not an organic designer. She prefers pure geometries, which she says emphasize the material properties of the sleek substances she uses—and the special effects she gives to them. She has partnered with glassmakers to find new ways of layering color onto mirrored surfaces, and much of her recent work involves manipulating polyester resin into luxurious design objects. These include high-end light fixtures (made by embedding neon tubes into multicolored resin blocks) and giant display cubes for her fashion clients (which appear almost to glow at the edges). "I love resin because of how you can endlessly manipulate it," she says. "You can make it matte, play with the opacity, or make it super polished to create reflections." 

The New Zealand Native That's Taking Over Rotterdam - Photo 3 of 6 - A smaller lighting piece from Sabine Marcelis’s VOIE light series #1. 

A smaller lighting piece from Sabine Marcelis’s VOIE light series #1. 

The New Zealand Native That's Taking Over Rotterdam - Photo 4 of 6 - Multiple lighting pieces for an exhibtion at Project Rotterdam. 

Multiple lighting pieces for an exhibtion at Project Rotterdam. 

A vertical piece from Sabine Marcelis’s VOIE light series #1.Marcelis just unveiled three new collections with the Danish design gallery Etage Projects and recently collaborated with OMA on two projects: the Knoll pavilion at this year’s Milan Furniture Fair and, in Paris, a new boutique for the jewelry brand Repossi. Whatever the commission, Marcelis says her process begins by finding a new way of treating an existing material. "I never set out to design ‘a light’ or ‘a mirror,’" she said. "I find an effect, and eventually it turns into something interesting."

The New Zealand Native That's Taking Over Rotterdam - Photo 5 of 6 - Featured in the Project Rotterdam exhibition, Marcelis designed a new piece for her Dawn collection. The collection continues from the VOIE Light Series #1 by utilizing neon tubes and cast resin, but in this interaction the forms are more sculptural. 

Featured in the Project Rotterdam exhibition, Marcelis designed a new piece for her Dawn collection. The collection continues from the VOIE Light Series #1 by utilizing neon tubes and cast resin, but in this interaction the forms are more sculptural. 

"I find an effect, and eventually it turns into something interesting." - Sabine Marcelis

The New Zealand Native That's Taking Over Rotterdam - Photo 6 of 6 - Lighting piece in collaboration with Brit van Nerven. 

Lighting piece in collaboration with Brit van Nerven.