From an early age, Dutch artist and innovator Daan Roosegaarde was absorbed by natural phenomena such as light-emitting fireflies and jellyfish. This fascination with the potential of nature and technology has seen him gain acclaim for technology-driven social design to change the way we think, make and look at the future. 

He founded Rotterdam-based Studio Roosegaarde in 2007, where he works with a team of designers and engineers to cultivate ‘landscapes of the future’: smart, sustainable and most importantly, viable prototypes for the cities of tomorrow. These projects explore the relationship between people, technology and space and culminate in imaginative designs such as ‘Smart Highway’, solar-charged road lights that glow at night; ‘Waterlicht’, a ‘virtual flood’ to raise awareness around rising water levels; and perhaps most notably, the Smog Free Project, a long-term, worldwide crusade for clean air. 

Smog Fre Project
Smog Free Project, Smog Free Tower, Beijing, China. Photography: HASY 
Smog Free Project Bicycles
Smog Free Project, Smog Free Bicycles, 2018. © Studio Roosegaarde

The studio’s catalogue of ideas has seen it exhibit globally in museums and public spaces, and for many years, Roosegaarde has been drawn to China. He installed his Smog Free Tower in Beijing (it quite literally sucks smog from the air and leaves a carbon residue Roosegaarde turns into jewellery), has a pop-up studio in Shanghai and even received the Shenzhen Global Design Award for Sustainable Development earlier this year. 

‘I am inspired by [China’s] curiosity towards the future. Design is not just about chairs, lamps or tables, but also about improving life. China is a living lab to make these projects happen and make them grow,’ he says. ‘People won’t change because of facts or figures, but triggering the imagination of a new world – that’s the way to activate people. I don’t believe in utopia, but in “protopia”: step-by-step upgrading of the world around us. Art is our activator.’§

A portrait of Daan Roosegaarde

Daan Roosegaarde. © Studio Roosegaarde