It's only fitting that in Rotterdam — home to a subterranean mushroom farm, a psychedelic market hall and a concrete observation tower that people pay good money to hurl themselves off of — you’ll now find the "largest smog vacuum cleaner in the world."
Frankly, I was unaware that smaller smog vacuum cleaner models existed outside of the Netherlands' second largest city, a city famed for its avant-garde architecture and adventurous urban design. But hey, Rotterdam is the kind of place where you should expect the unexpected.
It’s easiest to think of the electronic smog-sucking vacuum as a hulking public air purifier that also functions as a sort of mystical claw machine that dispenses souvenir trinkets made from compressed smog particles. Yes, you read that correctly: an air pollution-eating contraption that sucks in smog and spits out “gemstone”-based baubles.
Well, kind of.
Dubbed Smog Free Tower, the 23-foot-tall pollution Hoover-cum-art installation is the latest from the “social design lab” headed by always delightful Dutch artist and innovator Daan Roosegaard, the same award-winning, awareness-raising gent behind the glow-in-the-dark Smart Highway concept and the spellbinding “Waterlicht” light installation in Amsterdam.
Originally proposed for super-polluted Beijing, Roosegaard’s Smog Free Project — a project that aims to "produce smog-free bubbles of public space, allowing people to breathe and experience clean air for free" — has been kicking around for a couple of years now in the research and development stages.
In recent weeks, interest in the project was renewed when Studio Roosegaard launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the project. (The campaign, which has already blown past its initial crowdfunding goal, still has a week left to go). Earlier this week, Smog Free Tower, which harnesses somewhat basic ionic technology to scrub 30,000 square meters of polluted air per hour, was unveiled to the public — and it’s currently up, running and sucking hard.
Following its debut on a plot of land behind Studio Roosegaard headquarters in Rotterdam's waterfront Nieuw-Mathenesse neighborhood, Smog Free Tower will travel the world a la fellow Dutch installation artist Florentijn Hofman’s Rubber Duck.
The nitty-gritty on how Smog Free Tower, which runs on a mere 1,4000 watts of juice via wind energy supplied by Dutch energy provider Eneco, works:
By charging the Smog Free Tower with a small positive current, an electrode will send positive ions into the air. These ions will attach themselves to fine dust particles. A negatively charged surface -the counter electrode- will then draw the positive ions in, together with the fine dust particles. The fine dust that would normally harm us, is collected together with the ions and stored inside of the tower. This technology manages to capture ultra-fine smog particles which regular filter systems fail to do. In short, what makes our technology so unique is its effectiveness against all fine dust, its low energy consumption, the low maintenance required by our system, its ability to clean large quantities of air at once and its ability to do so at very high speed!
Got it. So why the big debut Rotterdam and not Beijing, aside from the fact that Studio Roosegaard is based there?
While Beijing certainly takes the cake in the air pollution department, Rotterdam struggles with severe air quality problems all its own. In 2011, the International Institute for Environment and Development found Rotterdam, “Gateway to Europe,” to be one of the most polluted — and polluting with high per capita CO2 emissions — cities in the world due to the its size and heavily industrialized nature. Rotterdam’s economy revolves around its port, the largest in Europe, and the numerous petrochemical plants and oil refineries that call the port home.
In recent years, the city government has taken a more aggressive stance against air pollution with plans to ban older-model diesel vehicles from the city center and further promote bikes and electric vehicles.
Reads a press release issued by Studio Roosegaard:
We humans have created machines to enhance ourselves, we invented the wheel and cars to liberate ourselves and travel. But now these machines are striking back, making air extremely polluted in high-density cities. In some cities, this pollution is visible. In others, air pollutants and smog may be invisible, but the impact on our daily lives and health is very real. In the Netherlands we live 9 months shorter because of smog. Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde believes we should do more, not less, and make modern cities liveable again.
To be clear (or not so clear in this case), Beijing isn’t totally out of the picture.
Following the tower's maiden run in Rotterdam, Beijing is the first planned stop on a multi-city smog-down. Stops in Paris, Mumbai, Los Angeles and Mexico City are also in the works. The funds raised through the Kickstarter campaign will enable Roosegaarde and team to transport and install the lean, mean, smog-busting machine in these cities and potentially others. You can throw the names of additional cities into the proverbial hat by Tweeting your suggestion to#SmogFreeProject.
As for that jewelry ….
While Smog Free Tower doesn’t exactly automatically plop out smog gems (although fun to imagine that it does) as it sucks in filthy, health-compromising air, by funding the Smog Free Project Kickstarter campaign you can score your own piece of “awesome and unique” Smog Free Cube jewelry — rings and cufflinks are both available starting with a pledge of 250 euros.
The material within each resin cube, equivalent to the cleaning of 1,000 cubic meters of pollution-scrubbed air, is indeed honest-to-goodness smog dust that’s been harvested from the Smog Free Tower's filters and compressed. In fact, if Roosegaarde and co. were to keep compressing and compressing, the carbon dust would yield a diamond — a bone fide smog diamond.
“It’s a beautiful way of carrying the message of this project with you and perceiving the tangible environmental impact you’ve made by supporting this project,” explains Studio Roosegaarde.
Who knows — depending on how the project's post-Rotterdam travels go, summer 2016’s hottest fashion accessory might very well be smog.