Stories for Tomorrow – Lived Today, Everywhere

The Man Who Makes the Lights Come on

Daan Roosegaarde with his Lotus Dome © Studio Roosegaarde

The Man Who Makes the Lights Come on

New ideas for the old world are the only way to save this planet. Thinks Daan Roosegaarde, Dutch designer and eco-conscious tech-poet.

Near Oss, about 20 miles southwest of Nimwegen, the highway to the future slumbers in perfect darkness. Until suddenly, green-blue lines light up along the road – three to the right, three to the left. It’s magical. And unfortunately, brief. Five hundred yards further down the road, the fleeting, enchanted moment is over.

At this point, it’s only a test track,” Roosegaarde explains. The Dutch designer developed the self-illuminating road stripes, called glowing lines, together with a construction company: “The paint absorbs sunlight during the day and can then glow in the dark for up to eight hours. During bad weather, we give it a little solar-powered boost.”

A visionary who wants to make a difference

Roosegaarde – blonde, slender and full of enthusiasm – wants to make people see the light, on the roads as well as figuratively. The 36-year-old Dutchman who has studios in Rotterdam and in Shanghai is considered a visionary amongst designers: “One day, I was driving in my car, wondering why we invest millions in new car designs yet do nothing about our streets. They haven’t changed in a hundred years. We maintain them, that’s about it.”

Whether it is China, Texas or Kapstadt – interest in the glowing lines is huge. Not just in developing countries, where electricity is scarce: “Just this morning, we got another phone call from some Saudi sheikhs asking: ‘When can you ship?’” Roosegaarde laughs. The glowing lines are much more energy-efficient and cheaper than traditional street lights. And that’s not all: In contrast to street lamps, you can’t steal them, which is a big problem for instance in South Africa.

  • Crystal Roosegaarde © Studio Roosegaarde

  • Daan Roosegaarde © Studio Roosegaarde

  • Crystal Roosegaarde © Studio Roosegaarde

Tech-poetry to the rescue of the planet

Roosegaarde believes that this is just the beginning, and that the future belongs to the Smart Highway: “Soon we will have roads that charge electric cars while in motion, and those dreadful charging stations will be a thing of the past!” he says full of enthusiasm. He also envisions paints that register temperature or moisture: “The tarmac would display red snowflakes when the road gets slippery, or alert drivers to hydroplaning.” Roosegaarde joyfully predicts that the ugly and expensive jungle of traffic signs and cables could soon be taken down: “The road will be interactive, it will indicate its own status: wet or dry, slippery or safe.”

He doesn’t find it strange that a designer is helping urban planners and civil engineers. The two things are not mutually exclusive, he says: “I am creating tech-poetry.” And therefore, he doesn’t just have a design studio, but also a lab for interactive designer products: “My team and I want to bring landscapes to life merging technology and poetry. This way, we contribute to sustainability and environmental protection, we re-humanize and beautify our environment.” This is his vision and mission as a designer: Just like Leonardo da Vinci five centuries ago, he wants to harness technology to make the world a better place.

His creed is Think big! Just in time to mark the Year of Van Gogh in 2015, Studio Roosegaarde designed a glowing bike path near Eindhoven. After dark, it starts to shimmer magically, meandering through the nocturnal landscape like a glittering carpet: Tens of thousands of glass pebbles that absorb light during the day start glowing in blue and yellow – a tribute to Vincent van Gogh’s famous Starry Night.

Smog? Just suck it up!

Metropolises such as Beijing, whose residents live under the constant scourge of air pollution, could soon set up huge smog vacuum cleaners in parks or near intersections: Shaped like giant rings or turrets, they suck up bad air. The suctioned smog particles could even be turned into diamonds in the process: “One thousand cubic meters of smog yield one diamond ring.” Roosegaarde plans to present the first prototype, a 23-foot turret, in Rotterdam later this year and then send it on a world tour.

One of his most enchanting creations is the lotus flower, which has already been on display in Amsterdam, Lille and Jerusalem: A giant sphere of delicate silver foil that reacts to body heat. When a sufficient number of pedestrians walk past, it opens to reveal what’s inside. The designer plans to further develop this principle for use in greenhouses, which could open on their own when sunlight levels hit a certain threshold.

No buts

The Dutchman is currently developing light-emitting plants. If jellyfish and fireflies can do it, trees should be able to do it, as well! “If we could illuminate streets with light-emitting plants, the world could save vast amounts of energy!”

Utopian? Impossible? Roosegaarde resolutely shakes his head: Nothing is impossible – think big! He hates the words “Yes, but …” with a passion – because they nip creativity in the bud. To address this problem, he developed the Yes, but-chair: Anyone who sits on it and utters the dreaded words receives a quick, yet intense electric jolt.


    August 2015
    Netherlands, Rotterdam

    Studio Roosegaarde


    Kerstin Schweighöfer
    is a freelance foreign correspondent for German media in the Netherlands, reporting on the Benelux countries for the ARD public radio stations, for Deutschlandfunk, FOCUS and art magazine, among others.

    Translated by

    Kerstin Trimble

    Dutch Version


    Creative Commons License

    This text is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Germany License.

    The photos are not. Their copyright lies with Studio Roosegaarde. Contact us for redistribution.


    Further Topics

    Food & Drink
    Public Relations
    Rural & Urban Nature
    Space & Housing