Daan Roosegaarde on his practice and Earth's future.
by Daan Roosegaarde
May 15, 2018
This interview with Daan Roosegaarde, the founder of Studio Roosegaarde, was conducted and condensed by frank news.
Studio Roosegaarde is the social design lab of Dutch artist and innovator Daan Roosegaarde. Together with his team of designers and engineers Roosegaarde creates landscapes of the future for a better world. The studio connects people, technology and space to improve daily life in urban environments and spark imagination.
Image via Studio Roosegaarde. Poland.
Thank you for taking the time, I appreciate it.
I’m curious how you move between planning, performance art, public art, and design.
I'm a hybrid. I remember when I was 16 my parents asked me what I wanted to do. I said, I want to do art, I want to do science, I want to travel, I want to be entrepreneur, I want to make things. Everybody got really confused and a bit worried. For two weeks they had me do interviews and tests with teachers, a psychological person, and other students. The conclusion after two weeks was what I wanted did not exist. I was sad for one day, and the second day was like, I'll just do it myself. That mentality, that kind of curiosity, always remained.
I look outside my window and see traffic jams, air pollution, CO2 levels rising, and don’t understand the world.
I try to make things to make my world more understandable.
It’s definitely about connecting all the different sectors you mentioned.
How do you conceptualize such large scale projects?
It starts with the statement. The global challenges, the rising sea level, the air pollution, the CO2 emissions. They're bad design, that we created as human beings. We can do two things: cry and be sad in a corner, and blame other people. Or, we can say, we created it, let’s engineer, and design our way out of it. A lot of the projects have a practical attitude, as well as a poetic approach. The Earth is our playground. It’s our canvas.
We use clean air, clean water, clean energy, and creativity as our ingredients. Most of the time it’s in public space so everybody uses it.
Does permanence mean something to you?
It’s about impact. We’ve done Waterlicht, the blue light show about the rising sea level, in different locations. At the United Nations in New York, or Museumplein Square in Amsterdam. I think people are still talking about it, even though it was only three nights. I don’t see a different value in permanent or temporary. But we definitely do both.
Image via Studio Roosegaarde. United Nations Headquarters, New York City.
Can you tell me about the Smog Free project? Are you looking to expand them?
Image via Studio Roosegaarde. Beijing.
Yeah that’s a project that we initiated in the studio — self commissioned. Fighting for this dream of clean air. And again, correcting reality.
We built the largest smog vacuum in the world. Which sucks up polluted air and cleans it. So at least we have some kind of oasis, a clean park, in these highly polluted cities like Beijing or Krakow.
It created a trigger where new smog free solutions are designed. Like the smog free bicycle, or smog free ring. We're also working on designs, not just correcting reality, but doing it right the first time. Like the energy harvesting kites [WINDVOGEL] which generate power through the push and pull of cables via the wind. At 100 kilowatts per hour, that’s enough to supply 200 households green energy. We can generate energy without polluting.
We’re infiltrating and correcting reality, and making proposals of how to do it right in a whole new way. The projects are definitely growing in terms of scale and cities.
How far does the Smog Free Tower reach?
You can clean 30,000 cubic meters per hour. A soccer stadium in a day and a half. The range depends on the type of pollution, wind, humidity, things like that. We know how much cubic air we clean, that’s a solid number. It’s really varied per city.
For example in Krakow, we really made an impact on the park scale. Making parks 27% cleaner than the rest of the city. These kinds of fine particles are 40 times smaller than your hair, they’re nano-particles. They’re really hard to measure. You don’t smell, feel, or taste them, but they’re there, and that’s why they get so deep into your body. We really have to do extensive scientific research to have the validation. We try to in every city.
How long did it take to develop?
Two years to build the first one. And then it really kicked off. The Chinese government got on board. Poland, the Netherlands, and we are developing in Mexico, Columbia, and India. For me, it’s a movement. It’s making clean air parks with the towers, clean air bicycles so you can bike without being polluted. You’ll see a whole new series of smog free solutions in the coming years. Of course, we workshop with universities who are experts in the field to say, hey, what do we need to do to make a whole city smog free? It’s a long term campaign. It’s not just the tower. One tower is never going to fix the problem.
But I’m not going to wait for permission. I’m not going to wait for government or industry. I’m going to do things now. And this is a really important first step.
Image via Studio Roosegaarde. Poland.
Are you optimistic about the future of our environment?
[Laughing] No! No, no, no. It’s a bleak world. Somehow we're very creative in finding ways to not adapt and not change. We’re spending 1.9 billion euro every day on war on planet earth. But somehow, we find excuses not to invest in new ideas. Out of mismanagement, or hesitation —
everybody wants change, but nobody wants to change.
It feels like we’ve run out of time. I don’t think there’s a lack of money or technology in the world. There’s a lack of imagination and curiosity in how we can live a better life. And that’s a bit sad. Because we’ve created the problem, so we should also fix it.
And even worse, it’s not just Earth.
Our latest project, launching in October, is focused on space waste. 29 thousand particals, caused by us. Broken satellites, missiles, etc. If a particle hits an existing sattelite, because of the speed, 17,000 kilometers per second, the sattelite goes down. No more Facebook, no more website, no more banking.
We have not constrained ourselves to planet earth, we’re wasting the universe as well.
And nobody knows how to fix it, ESA, NASA, Space X — nobody knows.
Then again, I think we have an obligation to persist and to be curious. And to be honest, I don’t know what else I should be doing with this life. I’m a voluntary prisoner of my own ideas in that way. A happy voluntary prisoner.
But the answer is no, to your question. I’m sure you expected a yes, but no. It’s problematic.
Do you find your work engages and incites a curiosity where we’re otherwise neglegent? Because it looks and feels like art.
Absolutley. It’s great to inspire people, but it’s also factual. The Energy Harvesting Kites can produce electricy. The Smog Free Tower creates clean air parks. So it’s inspiring, but it’s also making sure it works. The facts matter. The science matters. The poetic and inspiring part is as important as the pragmatic, make it happen attitude.
That might also be a Dutch thing. We live below sea level here. Without technology and without creative thinking we’d all drown. We’d all die. But somehow we stayed here and created a system of windmills, pumps, canals, and rivers. We could've easily moved to Germany to keep it safe. But we didn’t. We live with nature, we fight with nature.
Maybe somehow the craziness of the Dutch is in my DNA. A landscape tradition I’m part of in that way.
Do you have scientists on staff?
Yeah. I’m the son of a math teacher. I was raised by scientists. I’m definitley more of the creative. I have a team of designers and engineers and they work on the idea that I have. To go from idea, to prototype, to pilot, to final product or project. On some projects we work with external experts.
For the space waste project we work with ASA, European NASA, scientists.
With The Smog Free, we work with experts in smog. We have our own core team, Studio Roosegaarde, and then per project you want to work with the best.
Every week I learn a new word. It’s a good life. You’re always an amateur when you start something new. I'm learning every week, and that’s really fun. I’ve done all this stuff, but I’m still learning. It makes it fun for me. These are group processes, but I’m at the beginning and at the end.
Are your parents okay with how this all worked out?
Ha! I’ll tell you a personal story, it’s funny. They’re both teachers. And of course my work is always about art and architecture and design, but it was always a bit abstract for them. They see it’s going well. But a year ago I became a visiting professor at Tongji, in Shanghai. They called me to say, we’re so proud! That’s the world they understand. They come from education. A visiting professor, it’s like the highest goal. It’s just a title, I think I’ve done other things to make them proud. But everyone has their own world and way of appreciating.
They’re not worried anymore.
Take a closer look at Daan & Studio Roosegaarde's work below.