LONDON Dream big to make a difference

How quickly can ideas change the world? In a new series, we profile the global innovators shaping our future. First up, Dutch artist and innovator Daan Roosegaarde.

LONDON

Dream big to make a difference

How quickly can ideas change the world? In a new series, we profile the global innovators shaping our future. First up, Dutch artist and innovator Daan Roosegaarde.

Daan Roosegarde

The boundaries between digital and analog are becoming increasingly blurred; Step onto any public transport, café or street and half the people will have their heads buried in their smart-phone, engaging with a virtual world beyond the immediate visual.  Rather than a sci-fi scene of the future, virtual reality and artificial intelligence are small steps away from becoming corner-stones of the everyday, edging into our lives through VR headsets that help us make big decisions like investing in second homes to shockingly real simulations of places like war-torn Syria, employed by charities and activists to drive their message home. We no longer think twice about turning the heating on at home from a different time-zone.  The rising tide of technology is as rapid as it is unstoppable – yet who are the designers and engineers who decide what our future will look like? And how can we bring the best of these innovations into our homes? 

Since launching Studio Roosegaarde in 2006, Dutch artist and entrepreneur Daan Roosegaarde has been at the forefront of combining art, design and technology to drive social change, provoking the public to become part of the process and engage with what this new world will look like.  Located in Rotterdam, the Dutch city fast emerging as a global hub for architectural innovation, Daan and his team work out of what they class as a ‘21st century dream lab’, an open, light-filled warehouse, where glass division partitions double as creative drawing boards. ‘I don’t want to live in a world which is surrounded by objects invented by some bald guy in silicon valley”, explains Daan, “ I think this is something we should do together, that the next revolution should be social, not technological… (For example), when you dance on a sustainable dance floor, you feed the system with your energy, you create an interaction.”

Over the years, Roosegaarde’s projects have grown in scope and social importance: From intuitive art-installations like DUNE, which engaged passerby with their environment and each other, entirely transforming anotherwise dingy, dangerous through-fare, to a bike path that alights at night to give cyclists the experience of travelling through Van Gogh’s Starry Night.  While art still plays a big part in Daan’s work, there is a marked evolution from the visual and experiential to using his talents to address pressing social and environmental challenges. Smart highways that charge electric cars and glow with snowflakes when the temperature falls below 0 degrees?  Smog-towers to purify the air that we breathe? As aspirational as they sound, the brilliance of Studio Roosegaarde is their ability to make innovations fly off the page. 

Take the Smog-Free Towers. Roosegaarde was first inspired to find a solution to air purity when he spent a night in Beijing and couldn’t see out of his hotel room window because the smog was so thick and kids had to be kept in doors.  After test-running the smog-free filter in Rotterdam, he finally convinced the Chinese government to come onboard, launching the project during Shanghai design week in September 2016.  

 The 7 meters high Smog Free Tower is now the largest air purifier in the world, cleaning 30.000m3 per hour via patented ozone-free ion technology. Powered by just a small amount of green electricity, it captures and collects more than 75% of the PM2.5 and PM10 airborne smog particles and releases clean air around the tower with a 360-degree coverage, creating an almost circular zone of clean air in its surrounding. In the 41 days it was located in central Beijing before embarking on a grand-tour of China’s provinces, the Chinese government reported that air surrounding the tower was 55% cleaner, demonstrating the viability of the smog free tower as a local solution for clean air in parks and as inspiration for a clean future. Crucially, it also served to engage and inspire citizens, governments, NGO’s and clean-tech players to become part of the solution instead of the problem. Taking the concept one step further, Roosegaarde and his team launched a collection of limited edition jewellery, including glass rings that encase a distillation of Beijing smog. "In a way, clean air is the new beauty," he adds. "It's not about buying another Rolex watch or new car, that's boring old luxury. The new premium is clean air – it's great and it's why this is here. You don't have to buy a ticket, it's for everyone."

For developers, architects and home-owners, the smog-free tower serves as a spark to imagine how technology like this could be integrated into personal living. How attractive would it be to know your kids were playing in a garden entirely free of pollution, because your home came installed with a smog-free filter? While Daan’s first priority is Beijing, the combination of a seemingly limitless imagination with his practical ingenuity make his studio a star to watch over the coming years. ‘I try to merge the worlds of innovation and imagination and create the missing link between fantasy and reality, beauty and bullshit… to explore this new world and search for new adventures in it like when we were kids’, says Roosegaarde.

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