Fresh thoughts, fresh solutions

The artist Daan Roosegaarde combines design and art with technology and mathematics in order to point out paths towards a sustainable future. He designs public spaces that inspire visitors with works of art and visual design. His projects not only raise questions but also present first steps towards solutions. In our interview he talks about sustainability, the interactions between business, culture and design as well as approaches to improving air quality.

Mr. Roosegaarde, you’re an artist, designer, and innovator whose work focuses on sustainability. What’s your personal definition of sustainability?

Sustainability means to me developing new solutions for our environment. In my opinion, the question of how we can reduce our pollution of the environment is too shortsighted. Instead, we should start from the very beginning and think about how we can avoid negative impacts on the environment and generate positive impulses. Personally, I think one such opportunity is to re-think entire regions to be more livable with the help of design and technology.

You’ve launched countless artistic projects that promote climate protection and air quality. What motivates you?

When I look out the window, I see cities that are crowded with traffic and have poor air quality. I enjoy living in a city, but I would like to see environmental awareness and urban living go hand in hand. My projects express how I view the world and how I would like to shape it.

Daan Roosegaarde is an artist and designer who focuses on landscapes of the future. In 2007 he founded the Roosegaarde Studio in Rotterdam, which develops livable landscapes of tomorrow. This is where he conducts research on the relationship between humans, technology and space. Numerous museums exhibit his award-winning works.

But, what can art do in order to promote environmental sustainability?

Our world has no lack of technology or money — what we lack is the power of imagination. Art and design can help us realize the collective dream of a world in which economy and ecology are in balance. That’s because creativity inspires people in a different way than facts and technology do. We need to act on both levels in order to get people on board with our journey.

What kind of contribution can industry make in this area?

Thanks to its innovative power, industry is a key driver of progress. But a transformation requires more than that. Industry, art, and design have to share ideas about sustainable action. That way they can work together to create visions and make them reality.

How do you come up with your ideas — do you sit by yourself in a quiet room, or do you create projects in collaboration with partners?

Every project begins and ends with me. I initiate, guide and manage it. Throughout the entire project I’m supported by designers, engineers, and other experts. The “we” and the “I” always have to be in balance.

What do you care about most: the aesthetics, the interaction, the effect — or something else entirely?

The beauty of a sustainable world — a world in which technology and science also make their contribution.

How can we create places that are poetic and practical at the same time?

Ideally, artworks are so extremely practical that they become poetry. Here’s an example: In our “Gates of Light” project we bring the installation to life with the beams of light from the headlights of passing cars. We transform something that already exists into something that’s completely new.

To what extent can business learn from art?

Art, design, architecture and innovation are curious disciplines that follow their imagination. Companies also need this creative energy — especially in the dynamic mobility sector.

Smog-free towers, which are also known as smog vacuum cleaners, are among your most popular installations. How can we picture this project?

The towers are fulfilling our desire for clean air. They act like vacuum cleaners to remove pollutants from their surroundings by electrically charging microparticles and binding them. The project has been a success. The air quality near the filter is improved by up to 70 percent compared with the air in the rest of the city. Incidentally, we treat the particles that have been filtered out and transform them into wedding rings. Smog becomes jewelry.

What’s your answer to the critics who question the positive results of your projects in terms of their use of raw materials, production and disposal?

We work as sustainably and efficiently as we can, keeping in mind the energy and materials that our projects require. But in order to make a drawing, you need paper. The same applies to our projects!

Our goal is to improve sustainability along the value chain. Where do you think further action is necessary?

I know that Daimler has successfully decreased the CO2 emissions per vehicle over the last years. Now it’s time to think about the next step. Daimler in particular should lead the way and absorb more CO2 than Daimler itself needs. There are also good economic reasons for taking this step, because polluting the environment will become more and more expensive in the future. We can already see that today in a number of countries.

Which areas should we pay special attention to in the future?

Daimler has to get all of its employees and other stakeholders on board for this transformation. I would therefore recommend that you bring your colleagues from research and development and their ideas even more closely together with their colleagues from marketing and communication. That way they can share their enthusiasm internally, from one person to the next, and also project it outside the company.

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