We dreamt about an Urban Sun floating above our cities: Daan Roosegaarde

Roosegaarde speaks about Urban Sun, his latest work that uses far-UVC light to disinfect public spaces, with a hope to make mankind 'architects of the future and not victims'.

by Jincy IypePublished on : Mar 11, 2021

We thought the world would end, and then, someone created a new sun!

Every episode of despair that mankind has ever faced has always been followed by, well, an era of hope. After the Dark Ages came the great revolution; after the wars came the Renaissance. This time, the future is defined by conscious design, which in some cases, quite literally manifests as a ray of light!

Studio Roosegaarde has revealed their latest science backed installation called Urban Sun, that uses far-UVC light which claims to sanitise upto 99.9 per cent of coronavirus. This light has a lower wavelength and acts as a safe disinfectant, informs the studio. The project in development in no way promises to get rid of the virus, or offers itself as a fool-proof solution to curb its spread. What it does, instead, is reduce the risk of infection outdoors and inspire hope for a better future, where people can meet outside again freely, bravely, safely.

Urban Sun by Studio Roosegaarde | Urban Sun by Studio Roosegaarde | STIRworld
Urban Sun by Studio Roosegaarde Image: Daan Roosegaarde

The eponymous studio led by Daan Roosegaarde challenged themselves to probe further the power of light, and how it could be harnessed to “combat viruses and therefore enhance our well-being”. This sanitising, artificial sun is supported by researchers and experts globally, the concept based on scientific papers written at Columbia University, New York, United States and Hiroshima University, Japan, and more.

Inspired by the light of our sun, the open-air installation is self-funded by Roosegaarde, and its initial launch took place alongside the Erasmus Bridge, one of the most iconic landmarks in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

STIR speaks with Daan Roosegaarde, the Dutch artist, innovator, designer, an architect, dreamer, and creator of ground-breaking works such as towers that eat smog, and luminescent agriculture, about his latest invention that aims to sanitise, engage and enrich.

Studio Roosegaarde launched Urban Sun last week in Rotterdam, the Netherlands | Urban Sun by Studio Roosegaarde | STIRworld
Studio Roosegaarde launched Urban Sun last week in Rotterdam, the Netherlands Image: Daan Roosegaarde

Jincy Iype (JI): How would you describe your new age, sustainable practice that is Studio Roosegaarde?

Daan Roosegaarde (DR): As a social design lab, Studio Roosegaarde and my team of designers, engineers and external experts and scientists connect people and technology with artworks and designs that improve daily life in urban environments, spark imagination and attempt to fight the climate crisis. Curiosity drives us, towards creating dreamscapes for the enhanced livability of our future landscapes, aided by technology. Clean air, clean water, clean energy, and clean space are our core values, and light is our language.

JI: You call yourself an artist and designer, despite also having worked as an architect and urban planner. Why?

DR: As an artist, the realm becomes much more wide-ranging and explorative. The projects are largely driven by ideas and dreams; the scale keeps growing and condensing in terms of ambition and size, and encompasses art and design at an architectural and urban level as well. The work ultimately focuses on creating better societies and solutions at different levels, always pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo.

Daan Roosegaarde with Urban Sun’s model prototype | Urban Sun by Studio Roosegaarde | STIRworld
Daan Roosegaarde with Urban Sun’s model prototype Image: Daan Roosegaarde

JI: How does Urban Sun seek inspiration from nature, as do most of your work?

DR: I decided to explore the potential of far-UVC after reading about it in Nature, a science journal. We began an enquiry - how could we clean our cities of the coronavirus? I wondered if light could help in establishing a newer normal where public encounters are restored, combating the negative impact that social isolation has spread. Our world suddenly became filled with plastic barriers, warning stickers and social distancing. We just wanted to figure out how to not be so scared and vigilant all the time.

This is where the inspiration came in, of our powerful sun that lights up the entire solar system, and supports all life on Earth. We dreamt about an ‘urban sun’, floating above our cities that could help enhance our well-being, shedding light and hope onto these dark times.

A symbol of hope | Urban Sun by Studio Roosegaarde | STIRworld
A symbol of hope Image: Daan Roosegaarde

JI: What impact do you foresee with Urban Sun? How does it aim to reduce the risk of infection in public spaces?

DR: Urban Sun is a symbol of hope, and a concrete proposal of how design and science can create a better, friendlier normal. This is what I hope the installation is able to inculcate.

It can be presented in different public spaces where communities thrive, such as schools yards, train stations, museums, as well as cultural festivals such as Burning Man and the Olympics.

Urban Sun cannot cure people of the coronavirus. It does aim to provide cleaner and safer public spaces by significantly reducing the presence of coronavirus from the air. It is not a replacement for vaccines or other government regulations, but an addition and an assistance.

Urban Sun aims to provide cleaner and safer public spaces | Urban Sun by Studio Roosegaarde | STIRworld
Urban Sun aims to provide cleaner and safer public spaces Image: Daan Roosegaarde

JI: How does light work as a disinfectant and how long would it take to sanitise one pocket of space? Can the Urban Sun be brought into walled spaces as well and is it also effective in daytime?

DR: Urban Sun uses a custom made light source which can reduce aerosol viruses. Unlike other far-UVC light sources, Urban Sun has been engineered not to produce ozone and does not contain mercury. It aims to disinfect the surfaces and air of all bacteria, viruses and spores in seconds and minutes. The light technology employed can also work in day-time, and be brought into compact, indoor areas as well.

JI: Isn’t direct exposure to UV light harmful to some extent?

DR: Good question.

The concept is based on the independent research from scientists in the US, Japan and the Netherlands, who proved that far-UVC can effectively eliminate up to 99.9 per cent of viruses in the air. The research also showed that though traditional 254nm UV light is harmful, the new far-UVC light with a wavelength of 222 nanometers can safely reduce viruses. The technology was originally used in hospitals to reduce the risk of infections during operations.

Urban Sun employs far-UVC light with 222nm wavelength | Urban Sun by Studio Roosegaarde | STIRworld
Urban Sun employs far-UVC light with 222nm wavelength Image: Daan Roosegaarde

Applications of UV light have existed for more than 80 years. Traditional UV light can have long-lasting damaging effects on people. Newer UV, which we harnessed, has a lower wavelength and is not considered harmful. It cannot penetrate the skin or the eyes, as published in the scientific journals. To make a comparison, old disinfecting lamps with standard, harmful UV emissions had a light wavelength of 254nm. These lamps are not safe for prolonged exposure. The difference in wavelength is what makes this far-UVC harmful for viruses and bacteria, while remaining safe for people and animals.

Urban Sun in Rotterdam is measured and calibrated by the Dutch National Metrology Institute VSL in Delft. The project also follows the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) safety guidelines for ultraviolet light.

Traditional UV vs far-UVC | Urban Sun by Studio Roosegaarde | STIRworld
Traditional UV vs far-UVC Image: Daan Roosegaarde

JI: Could you explain the workings of the installation in detail? How far up does it need to be placed and how much area does it sanitise at one time?

DR: When the sun goes down, a small light appears in the evening sky. Urban Sun becomes this shining light in public spaces, poetically referencing that natural glow, as a beacon of hope.

Urban Sun’s 222nm light works at the speed of light, which travels at 300 km/sec. The technical simulation and prototype shows that a large reduction of viruses can be achieved within minutes. Final efficiency depends on the location, airflow, movement of people. So, for each location a site-specific design will be made, and specific dimensions of the height and area can be revealed.

It can be installed overhead on a cable system, where a fixture will throw a large cone of sanitising light onto a space below.

Urban Sun imagined in a city square | Urban Sun by Studio Roosegaarde | STIRworld
Urban Sun imagined in a city square Image: Daan Roosegaarde

JI: Would temperature, pressure, and other geographic and climatic conditions affect the efficiency of the design? For example, if the prototype gave sufficient results in the Netherlands, would they hold true in Japan or in India?

DR: Each location has its own pros and cons but Urban Sun in general can work anywhere. The research is still on.

Urban Sun – Initial technical simulation of Somerset House | Urban Sun by Studio Roosegaarde | STIRworld
Urban Sun – Initial technical simulation of Somerset House Image: Daan Roosegaarde

JI: Your creations exist soulfully between interactive design, architecture, urban planning, art and environmental activism – how do you engage in this fine interplay, without compromising on the essence that is at the core of each work?

DR: Each project is a marriage of an idea and a dream of making safer, more ecologically conscious world. You do not own an idea, you surrender to it. In this journey you try to balance all the inputs you receive from partners, prototypes and conversations, and aid it with rigorous research and technology. It is indeed a balancing act which in the end makes the project simpler - our job is to make complicated things look really simple, so eventually, these realms merge into one giant, powerful message.

JI: Given the ongoing pandemic and environmental crisis, what must designers and creators of the future be mindful of?

DR: It is extremely important that we are not scared of the future, but be curious, inquisitive, and experimental. We need to be aware, and practice a planet first approach. Urban Sun hopefully triggers this sense. We need to become architects of our future, and not just its victims.

Urban Sun throws a cone of light onto the ground, disinfecting its area of contact | Urban Sun by Studio Roosegaarde | STIRworld
Urban Sun throws a cone of light onto the ground, disinfecting its area of contact Image: Daan Roosegaarde

JI: What are some of the most powerful personal experiences that have shaped your philosophy and creations?

DR: It always starts with inspiration or an irritation. After observing the world, I want to try and add something meaningful to it. It is great to be part of that flow and become involved. From an early age, I have been driven by nature’s gifts such as luminous fireflies or jellyfishes. Diving at night to explore this underwater world, or waking up at 4 am with an idea, this is where things originate and there are no specific instances that have defined me or my work.

JI: Who is one creator from the past who you would love to have a conversation with, and what it be about?

DR: Nikola Tesla or Pixar. Would love to discuss designing a new city or upgrade an existing one where creativity and warmth is our true capital.

JI: How are you STIRring up 2021?

DR: So far so good, the hustle is always on. Stay tuned for more Dreamscapes, after GROW and Urban Sun, more is coming!

The installation hopes to create safer outdoors where people can gather without the fear of contracting coronavirus | Urban Sun by Studio Roosegaarde | STIRworld
The installation hopes to create safer outdoors where people can gather without the fear of contracting coronavirus Image: Daan Roosegaarde

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