Text by Jeanne Tan
Translation by Xiyang Wang
Photo by Ilco Kemmere
Daan Roosegarde is all about ideas. His vision is for technology to become interactive and for cities to become smarter. He has injected the design realm with a massive dose of hope by presenting projects that prove that even the most far-fetched and innovative high-tech ideas are not just science fiction, but can and will be realized.
In the past year, he added to his Dutch studio of designers and engineers and has opened a second Studio Daan Roosegaarde in Shanghai as part of the Dutch Design Workspace initiative of the DDFA (Dutch Design Fashion Architecture). He chose China because of its committed intellectual climate and its hunger for change, innovation, and creativity. China also understands its own desperate need for social and sustainable design.
“The Incubator program has been helpful,” Roosegaarde says. “It helps with logistical things and makes the business side of China more accessible, but it is the match-making that has worked best for me.”
Roosegaarde now has a particularly good relationship with Mr. Lou, a university professor at Tongi University in Shanghai, and he now gives guest lectures at the university. He has even employed some of the graduates in his studio to work on his interactive light projects for public spaces in Shanghai.
“Actually, I think the Workspace functions so well that I jokingly suggested to the director that they set up a second one back in the Netherlands,” Roosegaarde says. “Designers need to be half priest, half entrepreneur, and this set-up helps them cross those boundaries.
Where the Dutch DDFA has gotten it so right is the balance they have managed to strike between support and non-interference. “To be honest, I’m a bit allergic to government funding and initiatives as I have seen it fail so often,” Roosegaarde says, “but they are doing a great job – they know what is relevant and know how to create an engine.”
It is also Roosegaarde’s own mentality that has helped make his China chapter such a success. “China has a lot of problems,” he says, “but you shouldn’t come to China to change it, rather, China should change you. My angle is to reinterpret their own values in a new way.”
The happy marriage makes good sense. China is a pulsating nation in love with change and a desire to adapt. “I find that sort of forward thinking and energy lacking in the Netherlands,” Roosegaarde says. “The Dutch just don’t have that same commitment to change. When I give lectures in China in auditoriums with one hundred seats, two hundred people show up and there is always an hour of questions. That makes me happy because my interest isn’t just in building stuff, but exchanging ideas and doing things differently to how it is predictably done in Europe.”
But it isn’t always easy. Doing business in China does take some getting used to. Nothing is transparent. “It’s often hard to work out what the Chinese are thinking,” Roosegaarde says, “and the way they do business is different. I’ll find myself in a five-hour drinking session with them, do five minutes of business talk and only later realize that that was the meeting. The deal is done.”
For years, Roosegaarde has been saying that the first sustainable highway will be in China, not Europe. “I was driving along one day thinking that everybody thinks about car design but nobody considers the road,” he says. “‘I started wondering if we could make roads more interactive and sustainable.”
Roosegaarde started researching the idea and making artist impressions. “You need to act,” he says. “not store the idea in a drawer. The time frame has to be now to ten years – not one hundred years. Otherwise you can’t really be held accountable.”
He was then commissioned by the city of Oss, in the Netherlands, and BMW to make a series of interactive designs. His goal was to work out a way for cars to control streetlights and for roads to become an active interface.
Then, a director at Heijmans, one of the largest Dutch construction firms, called him directly on his cell phone and said “How much?” “That is a compliment in China,” Roosegaarde laughs.
Heijmans wants an electronic smart highway and they want Roosegaarde, who has never built a road before, to do it. The road would use traffic as a source of electricity to power streetlights and even cars themselves via electric charging stations.
“We’ll start testing in about two years and in five years time we’ll build a road,” Roland de Waal, Executive Board Member at Heijmans told the Dutch media. “It is smart and sexy,” he added, “and we need a designer like Roosegaarde to push this.”
So it will be interesting to see who wins the race to build the first smart highway – Europe or China. Either way, Roosegaarde is excited to be a part of showing Europe how Chinese innovation can be copy-morphed back home to speed up the pace of change in design.
This captures everything Roosegaarde is about – designing ways for technology to escape from gadgets and to become part of the actual landscape. No more empty talk. He is irritated, even angry, at the never-ending production of more objects to fill more rooms. “We don’t need any more chairs,” he says. “We need designers who can work out ways to shape the future.”
This interview was published in Connecting the Dots #6 for South China in 2012.
For entire magazine click here.
在过去的一年里，他让设计师与工程师一起加入到他在荷兰的工作室并在上海开办了第二个并以他名字命名的设计工作室。该工作室是由荷兰设计时尚建筑协会(DDFA)创办的荷兰设计会（Dutch Design Workspace)的成员之一。他选择中国是因为中国具备致力于学术研究的氛围以及它所具有的对于改变、创新和创意的迫切要求。
Heijmans 公司执行委员会成员Roland de Waal告诉荷兰媒体：“我们将在未来两年左右的时间里进行测试，并将在未来五年的时间内修建这条公路，”他补充说到：“这条公路会很智能、很性感，我们需要一个像Roosegaarde这样的设计师来推动这个项目。”