After amazing the world with energy-generating dance floors, interactive, sustainable roads, and interactive light & sound landscapes, Dutch designer and innovator Daan Roosegaarde is now drawing attention with his Smog Free Project. He and his team have recently finished the mock-up in Rotterdam and the project is on its way to Beijing, swiftly followed by a tour that includes four other Chinese cities.

“I’ve always been busy creating landscapes of the future”, says Daan Roosegaarde, who sees himself as one of a long line of Dutch landscape artists that paint fascinating cloudscapes. The latest of these landscapes is severely clouded by smog. “A few years ago I was in Beijing and on a beautiful clear day I could spot birds and cars and people from my hotel window high up, whereas later that same week, the sky was fully packed with smog. And not just the sky. The grey goo, with its typical bitter, dark smell was so intense that you couldn’t see across the street. I then realised that this was serious.” Roosegaarde is not a person to sit and stew; he’s known for tackling enormous issues with innovation and creativity.

Smart Highway, Oss (Netherlands)
So, smog. Major cities across the world suffer from it, and with the rapid expansion of the urban population everywhere, this problem will only increase. China takes the biscuit because it’s one of the fastest growing economies, a place where the authorities need to advise residents to stay indoors as much as possible. Air pollution is a silent killer and is be- coming a major health threat globally, causing lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. People living in big cities are increasingly aware of this but have yet to convince their governments and captains of industry to take measures. Contrary to hearsay, as Roosegaarde is quick to emphasise, the Chinese government is among the most active at present in taking up the challenge to clean polluted urban air. “China is doing in 50 years what Europe has been doing for 500 years: transforming an agricultural society into an industrial one. The excesses that accompany this transformation were to be expected, but now the government is really tackling the matter. Three years ago, Premier Li Keqiang declared a ‘war on pollution’, and since then the country has intensively engaged. The Chinese Central Government supports the Smog Free Project and has even developed an app that people can use to report smog in their city. The West’s moralistic judgement is out of date, as to blame the Chinese is not justified. It will not be solved at once – it takes time, but we wanted to do something at this moment, and thus emerged the Smog Free Project.” The project is twofold, consisting of a smog vacuum cleaner (with patented ion technology) and jewellery derived from the compressed smog particles produced by it. “In buying an item of Smog Free Jewellery, you are donating 1000 cubic metres of clean air to the city.”

At seven metres high, the Smog Free Tower is the largest smog vacuum cleaner in the world. “It cleans at the nano level, removing the microscopic particles that are the most harmful to our health, those that penetrate our body and organs. The polluted air is filtered and then returned to the atmosphere.” Effectively, the tower spits out clean air. It does so inside parks, where visitors can come to get away from the smog and breathe clearly for free.” Impressive, indeed, but this giant smog vacuum cleaner must surely consume a massive amount of energy...? “Not at all”, assures Roosegaarde with a smile. “Through the development of our sustainable dance floor, we’ve gained a lot of experience in energy-friendly solutions. The Smog Free Tower cleans 30,000m3 of air per hour without ozone; it runs on green wind energy and utilises no more electricity than a water heater (1400 Watts).”

Rainbow Station, Amsterdam Central Station
"Obviously, the Smog Free Project will not save the entire planet. For me, it’s mainly about encouraging

citizens to find answers to this enormous problem. We want people to become aware of the issue and to be involved in solving it. I think it’s the role of the designer to make the link between the practical and the poetic. Scientific solutions have been around for a while but haven’t been able to connect with the general public. The impact of imagination is important. That’s where creatives come in. With this tower, we have made a place where people can actually smell and feel the difference between polluted air and clean air. This engages them much more than official reports about the danger of smog. Of course it does not solve the whole problem – I’m realistic. But we will certainly create parks with clean air and invite the citizens to actively participate.” The Smog Free Jewellery – rings, studs, crucifixes, etc. – is developed by Studio Roosegaarde as part of the same package. These souvenirs are popular. “We even receive requests from couples who want to be married in smog-free rings!” The Smog Free Tower is being installed in Beijing in September, before moving on to other cities in China. “We are trying to create a movement. As Canadian futurist Marshall McLuhan once said: There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.”

Van Gogh Roosegaarde Path, Nuenen (Netherlands)
Sustainable Dance Floor, Rotterdam
With the Smog Free Project barely launched, Roosegaarde is already working on the next ‘land- scape of the future’. Called Icoon Afsluitdijk, it comprises the creation of a subtle layer of light and interaction on an iconic 32-kilometre-long dyke that protects the Netherlands against flooding. Built mostly by hand in 1932, the dyke is a highlight of Dutch engineering. “Dykes are sacred in the Netherlands – a bit like cows are in India”, Roosegaarde informs. “We Dutch have been living just below sea-level for 1000 years now. Fighting against the water has become part of our identity; it’s our shared narrative. Creativity, a tenacious drive to innovate, and a daring, free way of think- ing are needed to make such a victory over nature possible and sustainable. And that’s exactly what the Chinese are interested in: creative and innovative answers to huge challenges.”

This article appeared in DAM58. Order your personal copy.
Daan Roosegaarde Photo: Jip Broeks
Smog Free Tower, Rotterdam
Smog sample
Kinderdijk, Netherlands, with windmills dating from 1740
Afsluitdijk, a 32 kilometre-long dyke protecting the Netherlands from water and flooding, built mostly by hand in 1932. As part of the dyke's renovation, Roosegaarde and his studio are developing Icoon Afsluitdijk, creating a subtle second layer of light and interaction the enhance the unique experience between man and landscape. The designs are of both a temporal and permanent nature and are being revealed gradually during three distinct phases lasting over a period of more than two years. The 1 2 programme kicks off its first phase at the beginning of September 2016 with festive activities reflecting the innovative and sustainable character of this dyke.
Windlicht, St. Annaland, Zeeland (Netherlands)
Inspired by Kinderdijk, the aim of the project was to connect with the landscape and create a positive image around green energy.
Windlicht, St. Annaland, Zeeland (Netherlands)