Roosegaarde’s War on Smog

Within its glass walls and airy spaces, Roosegaarde collaborates with designers and engineers on innovative projects which have made the studio synonymous with effective, high concept work.

By Lars Van Tol

“God created the earth, but the Dutch created the Netherlands.” It is an old saying that rings true for a country which has reclaimed much of its land from the relentless North Sea. Its scenery has inspired a remarkable amount of landscape painting, from Rembrandt to Mondrian.

So it makes sense that innovation in human-made landscapes comes from a country which has always been engineering its own. Centuries of experience and experimentation have been instrumental in keeping out the sea, in a country where the threat of climate change is palpable.

Such are the cultural and geophysical forces that continue to shape Dutch creativity. Daan Roosegaarde is a Dutch designer whose projects have shaken up the landscape in the Netherlands and around the world. His inspiration must, in part, have come from the same vistas which motivated the landscape painters. Roosegaarde’s eye, however, is fixed firmly on the future, toward improving landscapes and integrating them with pragmatic yet artful projects. Following a degree in Fine Arts, Daan Roosegaarde graduated with a Master’s in Architecture from The Berlage Institute. In 2007, his design goals came to fruition when he founded Studio Roosegaarde in Rotterdam. Since that time, Roosegaarde has been earning awards, exhibiting his work, frequently acting as keynote speaker, and continually engaging with the concept and execution of a long list of audacious design projects.

Studio Roosegaarde is the base of operations. It is located in a restored glass factory appropriately named Dream Factory. Within its glass walls and airy spaces, Roosegaarde collaborates with designers and engineers on innovative projects which have made the studio synonymous with effective, high concept work.

In 2008, Studio Roosegaarde worked on the Sustainable Dance Floor. This interactive dance floor can generate up to 25 watts per module from the movement of a crowd. The Sustainable Dance Floor was designed and built for Rotterdam’s Club Watt. It is a coincidence of purpose and environment, a playful example of Studio Roosegaarde’s creative approach to problem solving.

Adhesive glow-in-the-dark stars inspired the solution to the Studio’s 2012 joint venture with Heijmans N.V. on the Smart Highway. Smart Highway is composed of different projects, the most prominent of which is Glowing Lines, made of bioluminescent paint which illuminates the night roadway with energy collected during the day. This partnership also led to the Van Gogh-Roosegaarde bicycle path—a smart, sustainable, stunning 500 metres of luminescent stones and solar powered LEDs inspired by van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’.

In 2013, challenged by Beijing’s air quality problem and inspired by the static electricity generated on a balloon’s surface, Roosegaarde began work on a concept which would become the Smog Free Tower. In 2015, the Studio exhibited the final product: 7 meters tall and capable of scrubbing 55% of smog particulate out of 30,000 square metres of air every hour. The Smog Free Tower was exhibited in Rotterdam, Beijing, and Dalian. Collected particulate was compressed and made into rings, cufflinks, and decorative cubes, which were sold to fund the project and spread awareness.

In collaboration with Chinese bike-sharing company ofo, Studio Roosegaarde is developing a bike-sized version of the Smog Free Tower. The Smog Free Bicycle is still in the conceptual phase, so details are scarce, but the concept alone gives a sense of the scale of both the problem and its solution. The Smog Free Project is landscape engineering as well as reclamation: air, clean outdoor spaces, and the street.

Roosegaard points to the logic of the collaboration, reminding us, “Beijing used to be an iconic bicycle city,”—and the Netherlands is an iconic bicycle nation. Combining air-purification with human-powered transit is the sort of innovative solution that will also help reduce traffic congestion. A multitude of potential benefits makes this design truly remarkable, and its scope and ability to involve the public makes it ingenious and attractive.

To improve air quality on the city-wide scale would require a number of towers and a large fleet of smog-eating bikes. If the concept is successful, hundreds of thousands of air filtering bicycles might be the key to minimizing Beijing smog. Success at the proof-of-concept phase might make Smog Free Bicycles a familiar sight around the world.

It may be unsurprising to learn that Roosegaarde has looked beyond the polluted skies and into the heavens. His next concept aims to reduce the amount of space junk in low earth orbit, concerned about the possibility of decades of shattered satellites and space junk proliferating into an unbreakable orbital cage. He has tentatively dubbed the project Space Waste, and it is certainly audacious—a blend of poetic concern and pragmatic action.

Roosegaarde is not waiting for inspiration to strike, he is actively seeking it. He has an uncanny knack for drawing great designs out of small things. Creativity, purpose, and a dash of audacity: these are the hallmarks of great design, and they are the fuel Studio Roosegaarde uses in its quest to improve the present and inspire a qualitatively better future.