Daan Roosegaarde

Renewable Revolutionaries: Daan Roosegaarde

Sep 12, 2019 - 4min read

For the next in our Renewable Revolutionaries series – a celebration of pioneering designers and engineers – we spoke to Daan Roosegaarde, founder of Studio Roosegaarde, about how his Smog Free Project is cleaning up our air.

Studio Roosegaarde was founded in 2007 with a dream to bring designs to life that convey important social messages. The first Smog Free Tower was erected in Rotterdam in 2015, the second following a year later in Beijing (where Daan is nicknamed ‘the Dutch Smog-Buster’).

Hi Daan Roosegaarde, can you tell us a bit about Studio Roosegaarde?

I founded Studio Roosegaarde in 2007 with a vision of technology-driven design that served a social purpose. Studio Roosegaarde started out with just me but now we have a team of 20 - 30 people. We also work with external experts and freelancers that team up with us for several projects. We’re based in Rotterdam, housed in a restored glass factory from the 1930’s that we named the ‘Dream Factory’. We also work a lot with external experts and freelancers that team up with us for several projects.

Collage of Daan Roosegaarde and his smog free tower

One of our first projects, in 2008, was a sustainable, self-powering dance floor. Springs in the floor turned dancers’ moves into electricity. We think sustainability is about doing more not less - by creatively using technology an interactive environment is created in which dancers are engaged with a sustainable experience. We can use technology to lead us to a more sustainable future.

In the early years, the work was more technology-driven, focused on light art-installations in public places, using LEDs, cables, and wires. Our project Waterlicht, for example, uses LEDs and lenses to construct an Aurora Borealis over 1.6 hectares of Amsterdam, showing the power and poetry of water. In Paris, the message was both about rising sea levels and encouraging visitors to consider the power of harnessing energy from the ocean.

All our projects are part of what I think of as ‘Landscapes of the Future’. We continue to innovate creative work that could bring about new ways of living sustainably, we started to incorporate a social element, projects becoming less technology-driven and more society-driven. I like to use design that empowers people to think imaginatively about becoming part of the solution, not the problem.

What inspired the Smog Free project?

In 2013 I became inspired by Beijing smog; the density of the smog was worrying me, children of 6 years old have lung cancer. When did we say yes to this? I suddenly had this thought: ‘technology is killing us’. This lead me to think about static electricity and static attraction. I thought, could I use that principle to create a smog vacuum cleaner? A machine that sucks in polluted air, cleans it, and releases it?

At the studio we began to work on the Smog Free project immediately. We started small: attempting to clean a room full of smog. By September 2015 we unveiled the first Smog Free Tower, standing at 7 metres tall, outside Studio Roosegaarde in Rotterdam.

How does the Smog Free tower work?

You can imagine it as a larger and more refined version of an air purifier. The Smog Free Tower uses patented positive ionization technology to produce smog free air in public spaces. The air that is pumped out is up to 75% cleaner than when it went in. The Smog Free Tower cleans 30,000 cubic metres of air per hour. Electrostatic is much the same as when you would rub a balloon on your head as a kid and laugh as it sticks to your hair.

Collage of Daan Roosegaarde and his smog free tower

How did you fund the project?

Creating and perfecting the technology for the Smog Free tower was not cheap! We received a lot of financial support via a Kickstarter campaign that raised almost £100,000 to fund the tower’s construction.

In addition to the Kickstarter, we came up with the idea of setting crushed smog particles in jewellery. People have got married with Smog Free Rings – Prince Charles owns a pair of Smog Free Cufflinks! The Smog Free Ring has been especially popular in China, where clean air is symbolic of true beauty and love - it’s great to see that deep emotional connection to the design.

What happened next?

After conversations with China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, we were invited to install a Smog Free Tower in a Beijing park, before taking it on tour across more Chinese cities. It opened on the 29th September 2016, in the same city where I was first inspired about the project.

We are looking at other cities to take up the project. For me, it’s all about showcasing the beauty of clean air. For me, beauty is not an expensive handbag or a sports car, but clean air, clean water, and clean energy.

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