Thus far, the Smog Free Project has been the most promising result of his experimentation, in its practical impact. After culling €113,153 in funding from a Kickstarter campaign, his team built their first tower, essentially a giant air purifier, in Rotterdam in 2015. The project sparked a commission from the Chinese government to place one such tower in Beijing’s 798 Arts District. Since being installed in September, the tower has successfully made air in the vicinity 55% cleaner.
It all began some three years ago when, during a trip to Beijing, Roosegaarde was disturbed by the smoggy view from his hotel room window. “I thought, we have to use creative thinking to improve life, and not wait for government and industry to wake up. It’s the role of the artist to come up with new proposals,” he explains. From there, he sought to “build the largest smog vacuum cleaner in the world, which sucks up polluted air from the sky, cleans it, and then releases clean air.”
As toxic air pollutants threaten urban populations across the world, Roosegaarde has hopes that the towers will help pave the way for a future, some 10 to 15 years from now, where cities will be environmentally stable enough to not need such solutions anymore. For the time being, though, the Smog Free Project is going strong. The Beijing tower will soon tour through four or five Chinese cities, and the firm recently met with government officials in India to discuss installing the towers there. “The Chinese people call it the ‘clean air temple,’ they really appreciate it,” he says. He adds that in Beijing the project inspired an offshoot collaboration with Tsinghua University to develop a Smog Free Bicycle, which will similarly purify air.