Daan Roosegaarde founded his social design lab, Studio Roosegaarde, in 2007 to work on projects which integrate technology and art in urban landscapes. He often employs light and sensing technologies in his work. One of this critically-acclaimed installations, Waterlicht, explores the role of water in futuristic environments to raise awareness about its significance and the need to provide clean water in living habitats. The installation has been created as a site-specific artwork in various cities around the world such as Toronto, London, Paris, New York, Rotterdam and now Dubai's Jameel Arts Centre. Here, he speaks to Commercial Interior Design about the pivotal role design plays in shedding light on important issues.
Please tell us about the Waterlicht installation at the newly opened Jameel Art Centre. What was the inspiration behind it and what are the main features?
The artwork Waterlicht is about the power and poetry of living with water. It is a combination of LEDs, lenses and humidity. It is not a traditional artwork as a bronze or steel sculpture but more a second layer of light in the existing landscape. It upgrades reality, which is my core design philosophy, too.
Dubai has a strong relationship with water from it history, using the water bodies to grow and explore. But also with its mission to become the most sustainable city and World Expo2020 venue. Waterlicht shows the power of water and inspires to think about our relationship with nature and learn from nature. For example, can we generate energy from the water waves? Or how do we provide clean water for everyone? So Waterlicht is about water innovation.
But most importantly, Waterlicht triggers imagination, a collective experience to wonder how we want our future to look like. It has been great to work with Jameel Art Centre as the new innovative cultural hub of the region and Dubai Holding to make this project happen. The team of Jameel Art Centre is amazing, so we really pushed the site-specific design of Waterlicht here, removing streetlight and even the hotel shut down their lights to make it as dark as possible. Quite an achievement in Dubai if I may say so.
What do you think of the design culture in the UAE? Is there anything specific that has impressed you or something, which you feel, is completely out of context?
In Europe, when I present a new idea, they usually ask: "Are you sure you have done this before?" because they want to be certain. In Dubai they ask me: "Are you sure this is the first time?" because they want to be the first. That is the big difference. People are more focused and curious towards the future in this region. Technology and innovation is part of people's lifestyle. Design and art is being appreciated more and more. How can this be translated into a sustainable city which is good for people, where there is harmony between nature and people, that is the next adventure. So I think the connection between disciplines, between art and science, between city planning and design is really important. And it is great to be part of that movement.
Who do you create for?
It is my way to make sense of the world around me. I look outside my window and I do not understand the world around me; the traffic jams, the air pollution, the rising waterlevels. So I try to improve by creating new proposals. It is great to see large groups of people connecting with the work and the ideas, and then make it grow.
Do you ever feel that so much design around us is, in fact, contradictory to the sustainable movement? Are we producing too much?
Yes, design is not about making more chairs, lamps and tables but about improving life. I believe true beauty is not about another Louis Vuitton bag but about three clean necessities - air, water and energy. These are our future values.
What are some of the best urban practises from the Netherlands, which we could embrace here in Dubai?
We can learn much from each other. For example, the way energy is produced in the Netherlands is really embedded into the landscape such as wind energy. The traditional windmills like Kinderdijk from the year 1730 actually became very popular tourist attractions. So perhaps we can work with DEWA to make flexible solar dresses and suits, so we can charge our phone ourselves. This integration with technology and lifestyle gives many opportunities for a sustainable cities. It is also very cool, in my opinion.
Who is your inspiration or someone whose work you admire?
I feel part of the Dutch landscape tradition, how more than 1000 years ago, they mastered the water with their design and management. My Chinese friends say we are crazy, who fights against water, why do not just move to Germany haha. But we do not, we stay and use design to make our own habitat. That kind of thinking is inside of me.
So Dutch masters such as Ruysdael with their obsession for skies and light trigger me. I look at the American land artist like James Turrell and Walter de Maria. At the Studio Roosegaarde, we follow closely the work of architects, Herzog & Meuron and Heatherwick (who we have had the pleasure to work with). I look at nature like ant hills and flocks of birds. Jameel Arts Centre and the new Louvre Abu Dhabi are very inspiring and powerful places. Architecture and nature science is really important.
What do you reckon will be the next best innovation for mankind, especially in urban environments?
It's a good question. I think the new innovations are about technology giving something back to mankind. I mean real value, not just a "like" on social media. I would love to have a clean air buddy floating above my head to give me clean and cool air in hot places like Dubai. Or have a solar suit to charge my iPhone. Design and technology can work together to improve life and inspire each other. That is the real future.