a world with giant air purifiers that can turn smog into jewelry, and bicycle paths illuminated by solar powered stones might seem like a landscape from the future — but this is the reality of dutch artist and innovator daan roosegaarde. ‘I always wanted to make things that would make the world around me more understandable,’ he tells us. ‘I look outside my window and I do not understand the traffic jams, the air pollution, the rising water levels. I make things to make it more human again.’


social design — one which addresses the livability of cities, human interaction with nature, and the excess of waste — is of critical importance to roosegaarde. the creative thinker has been leading a team of designers and engineers at his eponymous studio in rotterdam since 2007, but visionary ideas are just the beginning. roosegaarde ‘steers the dream into the reality’, ever-emphasizing ‘schoonheid’ — the dutch word with a double meaning: clean air, clean water, clean energy, but also beauty and creativity.


designboom spoke with roosegaarde about imagination, fear, and the new journey he’s undertaking — this time in space.

daan roosegaarde interview
‘space waste lab’, launched on october 5 in the netherlands, is a living lab which up-cycles space waste
read more about the project on designboom here



DB: what is the best moment of the day?


daan roosegaarde (DR): oddly enough, I wake up every morning at 4:00am. I write some things down on my notepad and than fall asleep. apparently my brain is full and needs to release before I can sleep. it is a bit of a weird, but beautiful moment.

daan roosegaarde interview
vertical light lines trace space waste on an altitude of 200 to 20,000 kilometers
read more about the project on designboom here



DB: what aspects of your background and upbringing shaped your creative principles and philosophies?


DR: when I was 16, I walked into the dutch architecture institute in rotterdam (NAI). that was where I saw these big, dark wooden models of public squares and tree-shaped towers. it was the work of arata isozaki. it was the first time I realized that what I wanted (to think, to build, to travel, to upgrade) was a real profession. 10 years later, I met isozaki in japan working on a project there. we talked about landscapes which are interactive, and his mind was as sharp as a razor blade. as I am writing this, I am again in japan and inspired by their curiosity towards the future. their tradition of the kyoto zen gardens inspired me to make the van gogh bicycle paths, engraving the earth with information and expression.

the ephemeral ‘waterlicht’ in rotterdam
read more about the project on designboom here



DR (continued): I always wanted to make things that would make the world around me more understandable. I look outside my window and I do not understand the traffic jams, the air pollution, the rising water levels. I make things to make it more human again: smog free tower, waterlicht, space waste lab — it is my way to deal with the cruel reality we live in. the dutch word ‘schoonheid’ means a lot for me with its double meaning; clean air, clean water, clean energy, but also beauty and creativity. so many global challenges we are facing are for me a sign of bad design. we design our world unconsciously — with our CO2 emission and waste — so let us design our way out of it.

daan roosegaarde interview
daan roosegaarde opened the solar powered van gogh bike path in the netherlands
read more about the project on designboom here



DB: who or what has been the biggest influence on your work?


DR: I feel part of the dutch landscape tradition, how they — more than 1,000 years ago — mastered the water with their design and management. my chinese friends say we are crazy, who fights against water, why not just move to germany! (laughs). but we do not, we stay and use design to make our own habitat. that kind of thinking is inside of me. 


the dutch masters like ruysdael with their obsession for skies and light trigger me. I look at american land artists, like turrell and de maria. at the studio, we closely follow the work of herzog & meuron and heatherwick studio (with whom we have the pleasure of working with). we look at nature, like ant hills and flocks of birds. architecture and nature science is really important.

daan roosegaarde interview
studio roosegaarde’s smog free tower returns to rotterdam | image by willem de kam
read more about the project on designboom here



DB: what do you keep on your bedside table?


DR: my notepad paper, pen, and a fully charged iPhone (chinese clients do not care about timezones).

daan roosegaarde interview
the ‘smog free’ project made its china premiere during beijing design week 2016 | image by derrick wang
read more about the project on designboom here



DB: overall, what would you say is your strongest skill, and how have you developed that skill over time?


DR: when I started the studio, I was a detail control freak, checking everything every day. that does not work with smart people. I learned how to let go, to define the vision, the point on the horizon and give the designers and engineers around me a challenge. as this evolved, I edit, moderate, enhance; I have a really good feeling what the project should and should not be, so I can make fast decisions to steer the dream into the reality and into the right direction. I learned to be more intuitive, which is fed by intelligence. I believe there is not a lack of money or technology in this world, but imagination — and it is my job to trigger this.

daan roosegaarde interview
studio roosegaarde created futuristic eco-landscapes along a dike in the netherlands
read more about the project on designboom here



DB: what projects you are currently working on that you are especially excited about?


DR: I love the space waste lab because it is the first time we’re starting a project with a public question: what would you do with 8.1 million of space waste? usually we work for 1 or 3 years and than tadaa, surprise! we launch it. now it is more open, and it is scary because I do not have control, but it’s also good because I learn so much. how can we clean up space, and why do we accept pollution? that is the new journey I am on.

daan roosegaarde interview
the beauty of green energy was visualized through the project ‘windlicht’
read more about the project on designboom here



DB: if you could offer your 20-year-old self advice, what would you say?


DR: let your dream guide you. don’t worry, when you place the idea centrally, the rest (money, time, team etc) will follow. you have to be a voluntary prisoner of your own imagination. you will always have people telling you that it is not possible or allowed, and it is your job to prove them wrong.

‘glowing nature’ — part of the ‘afsluitdijk’ project — comprises cultivated natural bioluminescent algae
read more about the project on designboom here



DB: what are you afraid of regarding the future? what are you optimistic about?


DR: the facts are not working with us. the UN just launched a report describing the trillions, not billions, of US dollars we need to keep our cities liveable. we have always thought polluting was for free, but now we will pay the price. so are we going to be scared, hide in a room and blame other people? or are we going to be curious and see this as a moment in history to do things in a new way? will humans be reduced to robot food, where we feed our opinions and dreams to social media computers? or will it create a new network where we understand each other and ourselves in a more profound way? that sense of urgency is here today. so I am scared and hopeful at the same time. 

daan roosegaarde interview
portrait of daan roosegaarde

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