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Daan Roosegaarde - a Type of Messiah?

The timing couldn’t have been better. Three days after he won the Index Award, Daan Roosegaarde entertained Dutch television viewers for three hours, talking about his ideas and work in the prestigious programme Zomergasten (Summerguests). 

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 05-09-2013

Daan Roosegaarde is among the first designers to make it onto the Zomergasten programme in its 25-year history, although he didn’t want to be labelled as such. “I make things,” he said.

The set-up of the programme is simple: a guest is invited to select clips from movies, documentaries, and TV programmes that he or she has been touched by. These clips form the bases of a three-hour long interview on a Sunday night. Every summer six people are invited, usually authors, academics, politicians, or artists. Thus far design has only ever been represented by trend forecaster Li Edelkoort and fashion design duo Victor & Rolf.

Roosegaarde was well received. The way he spots opportunities and challenges in everyday surroundings, like the Index Award winning “smart highway”, was inspiring, columnists wrote the next day.  “So many people have opinions,” Roosegaarde said regarding the current Dutch climate, “but I prefer to make things. I want to make the world better.” This was clearly refreshing. As someone concluded on Twitter the next morning after reading all the positive feedback from Roosegaarde's interview: “The Messiah must have arrived last night.”

Roosegaarde boldly states what many think, but few dare to admit - and he does it all with a charming smile: “The old world is broken, it crashed,” he said.  The old world was focussed on private ownership, while the new world is focussed on sharing.  It is a slogan Roosegaarde often returns to.  He is much more interested in improving public spaces – highways for instance – than designing private accessories like cars.

A “hippie with a business plan” is what he calls himself.  1960s hippies are even an inspiration.  He showed a clip about the Amsterdam hippies’ plan for collectively owned bicycles – the "White Bicycle Plan” – from a 1966 British documentary.

“They made a radical choice but were ahead of their time and so the bikes disappeared,” he said.  “Now we simply put chips in the bikes.” Hundreds of cities worldwide have public bicycles on the road these days.

A recent technological feat shown by Roosegaarde was the Solar Sinter Project by Markus Kayser, which uses the extreme heat of the sun in the desert to “melt” the one available resource there – sand - into a glass-like building material. “I wish I had designed this,” Roosegaarde said, drawn towards the extreme simplicity of the idea.

That technology makes things possible is one of Roosegaarde’s messages. It’s not something to be shunned, but “needs to be used to make us free.” To show how ideas about technology change in a short time Roosegaarde showed a clip from a 1999 film by Frans Bromet about mobile phones. Almost everyone interviewed on the street in Amsterdam said that they did not need one or did not want to be contacted all the time. “They can write me a letter if they want to reach me,” one interviewee said just 14 years ago.

Roosegaarde’s love of the public sphere even led to him taking a jab at the current Dutch government and the prevailing anti-intellectual climate. “I am used by this government as a poster boy for successful creative entrepreneurship. But this government is destroying the infrastructure – the schools and cultural institutions – that made it possible for me to become what I am. Culture is not just ‘a left wing hobby’, but it’s about thinking in which direction we’re heading.”   

He even specifically mentioned how Premsela – the Netherlands Institute for Design and Fashion and the NAi (the Netherlands Architecture Institute), were forced (along with the Virtual Platform) to merge into Het Nieuwe Instituut, the organisation now behind our own

A full list of the media fragments selected by Daan Roosegaarde can be seen here.

Two previous interviews with Daan Roosegaarde can be found here and here.

Daan Roosegaarde during Zomergasten
‘White Bicycle’ – still from 'The world tomorrow; it’s a happening, a happening, a happening', ITV documentary, 1966
Solar Sinter Project by Markus Kayser
“It doesn’t appeal to me at all if people could always reach me.” Still from interviews by film maker Frans Bromet in Amsterdam, 1999

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