Dutch Artist and innovator Daan Roosegaarde wants to suck up smog particles from polluted air in a giant vacuum cleaner and turn them into diamonds. He’s also lighting up the landscape with glow in the dark smart highways, and inventing new ways to get people to engage with cultural heritage. “It’s all about finding connections between the new and the old,” he says, “between history and the future, between pragmatism and poetry, between fantasy and the excel sheet.” In this video for the World Economic Forum.

Watch the video above for the full talk, or read a selection of quotes below.

On hacking nature

“As you know the Netherlands is below sea level, so there is this whole system of windmills, dykes, rivers and canals to keep us from drowning. So this may seem natural, but it is a manufactured landscape and a perfect way to see how technology and nature can have a poetic and intrinsic relationship with each other. Landscape is a place to experiment, to explore, it’s an extension of who we are. What does that mean for the cities that we live in? For technology that is more or less invading us human beings? How can we implement nature in the city of tomorrow?”

“Here we see a beautiful old Renaissance church in Lille. The City spent a lot of time, money and energy on this cultural heritage. There’s only one problem with these Renaissance churches, nobody goes there. So the the Mayor of Lille called me and asked, “Can you make something so people start to appreciate where we come from?” So we made the first Lotus Dome. Based on the heat of your hand and the light, it folds open and starts to scan and reveal the history, showing places that were unseen before.”

On Smart Highways

“I was sitting in car thinking about mobility and the landscape. Everyone always thinks about the car, but nobody cares about the roads. And that’s weird because the roads, the infrastructure, that’s the thing we leave behind for the next generation. Can we make roads that are more connected to energy neutralness or poetry? So I teamed up with an infrastructure company Heijmans . Now we have a deal for the next five years, my team of designers and engineers and theirs, working together to think about the future of roads.”

“We’ve realised twenty ideas over the last year that we’re dragging from proto to product. Glowing lights, where we think about street lighting to make roads safer and more beautiful. The road was unlit before and now it’s like a body that helps you to navigate. It’s interesting how this hard, raw, completely conservative road industry, suddenly opens up out of love for new things. And out of sheer desperation, because their old economy is crashing. So I think the role of the Artist is to be this happy infiltrator, and connect with dreams, connect with craftsmanship to make new things happen.”

On the walk of light

2015 is the 125th anniversary of Vincent van Gogh’s death. But the problem with him and with history, is that you don’t really feel it. A lot of it are like paintings in museum with the sign “please do not touch”. So the Van Gogh foundation and the mayor asked me, ‘Can you make something to make him feel more alive?” So we took the glowing lights you just saw in the highways, chopped them up into little pieces and – inspired by swirls of Van Gogh’s starry night paintings – we created the first kilometre bike path through the area where he lived and worked. Making it was labour. So it’s craftsmanship 2.0.”

“It’s about bringing culture back alive. No one expected a bike path to become world news, but it did. It’s not that easy. Sometimes you’re lucky and you have a mayor who has the guts and wants to invest in new ideas. A lot of people say they want creativity or innovation, but the moment you present that idea, there’s this tendency to limit ourselves, that we reply to every new idea with two words: “Yes. But!…it’s too expensive, it’s too cheap, it’s too beautiful, it’s too ugly.”

“To move away from the “Yes, But!”, and have the guts to explore and invest in new dreams is the way to go. Sometimes we work from our obsessions, sometimes I follow my intuition. Sometimes I look at the world around me, and I’m amazed.”

Watch the full video in the player above.

Author: Daan Roosegaarde is a Dutch artist and innovator. 

Image: A couple walk past “Filament Lamp”, an art work installation, at a commercial centre.REUTERS/Jason Lee.