On a trip to Beijing three years ago, artist Daan Roosegaarde looked at a sample of the city’s notorious air pollution and got inspired. The tiny black particles were mostly carbon; carbon, at high pressure, turns into diamonds. Why not suck up the city’s smog, he thought, and turn it into jewelry?
Since then, Roosegaarde has been designing a prototype of the world’s biggest air purifier (in the meantime, he also built a glow-in-the-dark smart highway, a virtual flood designed to make people care about climate change, and multiple other art projects). Now he’s ready to build the purifier and begin cleaning urban air, transforming the resulting pollution into rings.
The “Smog Free Tower” uses the same technology that hospitals often use to clean air–attracting particles of pollution through static electricity–but on a larger scale. “[It] creates bubbles of clean air around the tower,” says Roosegaarde. “Here people can experience clean air for free, and sense what a clean air future is. We designed the tower as a ‘clean air temple’ so it has a strong iconic but also performative value. It captures the ultra-fine smog, something standard existing systems cannot capture yet.”
After the tower collects piles of black powder, the designers will turn it into rings. Diamonds take too much energy to produce so, instead, the designers will make simple square rings with a cube of compressed pollution. Every ring holds as much smog as 1,000 cubic meters of city air.
As people visit the tower, it’s designed to be a place to talk about how to make the larger changes that are necessary to prevent air pollution in the first place. “We all know the true answers,” Roosegaarde says. “Less cars, clean technologies, more bicycling, etc. But somehow we are still stuck in this polluted situation. Waiting for government actions will take too long. So this is a solution on park scale, and the start of a movement on an XXL-scale. By making and inventing we want to upgrade reality. We feel like makers, not only consumers.”
Roosegaarde and his team are currently raising money on Kickstarter for the tower, which will be up in Rotterdam–the artist’s home–first. Later, they plan to take it around the world, from Paris to Mumbai to Beijing, cleaning small patches of urban air as they go.