Home to the largest and busiest port in Europe, the Netherlands’ “second city” is now attracting a fleet of designers, artists and architects who are reshaping the Dutch city into an epicenter of urban innovation
FOUR YEARS AGO, Daan Roosegaarde wanted to build the world’s largest vacuum cleaner. The artist-architect envisioned a 23-foot-tall air purifier powerful enough to suck up pollution from city parks using about as much electricity as a plug-in teakettle. Families, couples and friends could breathe easy in the soot-free oxygen surrounding his Smog Free Tower. The only trouble was finding someone willing to fund the machine’s construction. “Sometimes somebody comes with a question, and sometimes we ask ourselves a question,” says 38-year-old Roosegaarde, lanky, blond and amply caffeinated on a stormy afternoon in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, where his studio is headquartered in a former glass factory near the banks of the Nieuwe Maas River. “Balancing that allows you to find the space to experiment.”
Instead of waiting for a client to provide funding for a prototype, he turned to the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. His Smog Free Project went live in July 2015, and within weeks, backers had pledged more than double the requested €50,000 (about $57,000). Roosegaarde and his team of designers, scientists and engineers got to work, using a grassy patch outside the studio’s back door as a laboratory. They constructed a wind-fueled, ventilated tower that harnesses positive ionization to clean a football stadium’s worth of air in a couple of days. Citizens of Rotterdam came to visit the sculptural contraption, picnicking beside it just as Roosegaarde had imagined. Roosegaarde was already known in the Netherlands for projects like a sustainable dance floor that generates electricity through movement and a van Gogh–inspired bike path that glows at night, and his star continued to climb.
Credits: By Megan Conway, The Wall Street Journal