Transforming the Ordinary

Daan Roosegaarde is a true renaissance man, working beetween the fields of landscape architecture, green technology, lighting design and art. With his various projects he tries to create new links beetween existing things to make people more aware of the diversity, richness and beauty of our world.

Topos: How would you describe yourself? Are you an artist or a designer?
Daan Roosegaarde: I would describe myself as Daan Roosegaarde! I don’t believe in all these tags and words. I think the future is about being hybrid and finding new connections between existing things. So I don’t feel the urge to put a label on myself.

Topos: Could you tell me a bit more about yourself?
Daan Roosegaarde: I studied Fine Arts and did a master’s in Architecture at the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam. Eight years ago, I founded my own studio out of a desire for public space, creative thinking, new technology, and an almost naive notion of improving reality.

Topos: What are your influences?
Daan Roosegaarde: I was always fascinated by the architecture of Arata Isozaki and Japanese Metabolism. This idea of envisioning a new future, which was part of these projects, was very inspiring to me. But at the same time, these projects were mainly about architecture, and not so much about people. That’s why I started to focus on public spaces such as squares, and on infrastructure such as pedestrian tunnels. The notion of social design started to pop up at that time, and the idea of using technology to create new forms of interaction. All of a sudden, technology became less expensive, and microchips became widely available. That was about 2007. At this time, I founded Studio Roosegaarde.

Topos: You describe Studio Roosegaarde as a “Social Design Lab”– what does “social” in this context mean?
Daan Roosegaarde: It means that life is not static, that your environment is open-minded and interested in your input. That you can build up a collective experience and that you have a desire to feel connected with the world around you. Like Marshall McLuhan once said: “There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew.” The question I ask myself is, how we can create environments in which people are able to participate? The horror of all the terror attacks shows what happens when people disconnect from the world around them. Being disconnected creates friction, so I use technology to create social inclusion, which in my opinion is a huge topic in Europe these days.

Topos: How do you create this social inclusion?
Daan Roosegaarde: By making proposals and having a good team of engineers and whiz kids around me. The rest is brute force (laughs). You have an idea, you don’t let go!

Topos: You describe your work as techno poetry – what does that mean?
Daan Roosegaarde: Usually the word “tech” is connected to industry and not to emotions and feelings. I think it’s interesting to combine the two. There is research that I’m part of for the World Economic Forum, which shows that within the next 25 years, a lot of jobs like taxi driver or garbage collector will disapear because of robotisation. The top skills for future humans will be emotional intelligence, complex problem-solving, and creative thinking. In a weird way, that allows us to be human again. When machines become smarter, they become our body. They keep us warm, they keep us safe, they guide us to that which will allow us to focus on things that are unique for human beings. That could be a new Renaissance – some sort of Leonardo da Vinci-like scenario. I think that’s what the term “techno poetry” is about.

Topos: You do a lot of research – How does that work? Are you working with universities?
Daan Roosegaarde: Yes, scientists and universities are very important for us. I have a fixed team in my studio in Rotterdam where the design and research is done, but for a project, they plug in with experts, either in biomimicry  or landscape design. It differs for each project. Everybody has his or her own expertise, and it’s my job to create the links between them.

Topos: What role do sustainability and green technology play in your work?
Daan Roosegaarde: It’s the new default. There’s no way back – it’s as simple as that. In our project “Windlicht”, which we’ve been working on for the last two years, this aspect plays a very important role. We wanted to show this positive dimension of wind energy, because a lot of people think that these windparks are really disturbing. I think they’re really beautiful! And they are part of a transition we are in. We wanted to create a more iconic experience of these windparks, and it worked! Thousands of people have come to Zeeland to experience the installation and look at all the lines in the landscape in an almost zen-like state of being.

Read on about Daan Roosegaard’s favorite project in Topos 95 – Light.