Meet the man making jewellery from Beijing smog

Roosegaarde’s ‘pollution vacuum’ is in Beijing until the end of October

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Smog Free Tower

Daan Roosegaarde explains his connection to the future with the philosophical expanse of a megalomaniac. ‘What is true beauty? Is it another Swarovski diamond? Is it a girl with long blonde hair in an ad? Or is it clean – clean air, clean energy, clean water. If you look at all of our projects, they’re all in a way connected with the notion of beauty in a “future way”.’ We're inclined to agree. This is, after all, the man responsible for the design of the Sustainable Dance Floor, an interactive dancefloor which generates electricity through the act of dancing, incentivising the groove for the carbon-conscious night crawler.

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Daan Roosegaarde

Mercifully, he’s on our side (for now). The Dutch artist-cum-pollution revolutionary arrives in Beijing later this month to spruik his latest contraption – the fantastically steampunk Smog Free Tower; a seven-metre-tall outdoor air purifier (the largest in the world) and one half of his Studio Roosegaarde’s ambitious Smog Free Project. ‘It’s a project me and my studio have been working on for the last two, two-and-a-half years, so it’s great [that] it now gets embraced by the Chinese people, but also of course the Chinese Central Government.’

Why wouldn’t it be? Running on 1,400 watts – no more than a kettle, the Smog Free Tower purports to purify a surrounding area of 30,000 cubic metres per hour, ozone-free. It also produces provocative jewellery, namely the Smog Free Ring: pillar two of the Smog Free Project. By collecting the carbon pollution from the bowels of the Tower and compressing it into wearable – and, quite frankly, stunning – pieces of jewellery, Roosegaarde’s Ring injects a refreshing shot of optimism into an ever-wearying discourse.

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Smog Free Ring

‘This is as important as the Smog Free Tower. Sometimes the media focus only on the Smog Free Tower, and I think that’s not correct. The Smog Free Project is the jewellery and the tower together. If we only focus on technology, on a “quick-fix” solution, we’re not going to change – we’ll pollute more. Or become passive again. I think the rings make it very personal – almost infinite. Something that you carry with you, something you can talk about, something you can share. We have literally tens of calls every week from people who want to purchase them because they want to be an ambassador, or they’re getting married and they want to give each other true beauty, which is clean air. It’s important to connect people in a different way to the global challenge, which smog is, instead of waiting on the Government and becoming passive.’

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Smog Free Tower

Naturally, a project of such scope has attracted considerable worldwide attention – and not just from the media, with Roosegaarde’s trailblazing technology prompting action from far and wide. ‘In the last two years we’ve had so many calls, emails, photos from people all around the world with their own smog solutions. We had people proposing bicycles that suck up polluted air, clean it and then spit it out fresh air. We had a girl from London who proposed making dresses that change colour when the pollution level is too high. We had a DIY community in Shenzhen who make a really, really good air purifier for 200-300RMB that is ten-times cheaper than the Philips one, but two times better. I love to work with them and say “Hey, can we make an exhibition, or can we connect you to the right people?”, and universities like Tsinghua are great platforms for that.’

After blitzing its pilot run in Roosegaarde’s native Rotterdam, the Smog Free Tower is at last ready to meet the city that inspired its creation, Beijing, though exactly where it will be stationed remains a secret. Surely Taikoo Li? ‘Yeah, yeah that would be good. You know, you have some nice parks there [in Beijing] as well. What’s important for me is that it’s public – that you don’t have to buy a ticket or something. But let’s be clear: one tower will not solve the whole problem. This is phase one. The next phase is to look at more permanent solutions.’

The Smog Free Project is at 751's Power Square until the end of October before touring other parts of the country.

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