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Ray of Light

Hidden meaning can be found in the objects designed by Lotte van Laatum for the Maasstad Hospital's Oecumenical services.

By Cassandra Pizzey / 25-08-2011

The Maasstad Hospital auditorium holds Oecumenical services once a week for its patients and visitors. A rather unusual project for product designer Lotte van Laatum, who was asked to design the liturgical elements for the space.

"Light is the most important factor in my design," explains the designer. "It has so many biblical meanings such as the secret of the creator and it symbolizes the presence of the Holy Spirit." The auditorium was devoid of any natural light before the designer was asked to create the moveable furnishings. "Light can also be a positive influence on patients who attend the services."

The elements feature a decorative pattern inspired by church windows. "The way light falls through those windows is something I wanted to capture in the furniture," says Van Laatum. "The design of the church windows is based on the circle and the sphere, both symbols of the divine and perfection. It also symbolizes the sun as a heavenly body."

Not only are the various elements beautiful to behold, they each contain a deeper meaning. For instance the altar, table, cross and various other pieces are made from Jerusalem stone and Lebanon cedar wood. "Jerusalem stone refers to the Holy Jerusalem and Lebanon cedar wood in described in the Old Testament as part of the interior in the Temple of Salomon."

The tableware and linen have the same basic shapes found in church windows and the materials used each have a biblical meaning. The linen and lambswool textiles were produced at the Textile Museum in Tilburg. "I used glass (mouth blown Bohemian crystal) for the tableware which is rather atypical, but this way people can see what it is really about: bread and wine."

Often designing objects rich with symbolism, this commission differed form others due to its religious context. "I don't have a Christian background so I needed to do a lot of research into the history, stories, meanings and rituals of the faith. It was important for the elements to be present yet not overshadow what is actually being said during service."

The auditorium interior was designed by Mariska Ek whom Van Laatum worked closely with. "The interior itself is neutral but needs to transform into a spiritual setting once a week. Although the elements are only on display during service, they have a feel of permanency as they were designed specifically for the auditorium," says the designer.

Thanks to the decorative inlay in the various pieces, it seems as though altars and tables were taken from a church where they were bathed in sunlight for years. Van Laatum explains: "This way the elements refer to the outdoors, to light and space. It was important to give visitors the feeling as though they had entered another environment when attending service, somewhere outside the hospital."

She continues: "It was great to work alongside the hospital's (spiritual) team who gave me a lot of freedom in my design. Although I had little knowledge of liturgical elements to start, they really liked the way I approached the project."

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