In an interview with Dezeen as part of our Good Design for a Bad World project, the Dutch designer said that humanity needs new ideas to help speed up the transition between the destructive thinking of the past.
"For me design is not about making another chair or another lamp," Roosegaarde said. "Good design, good luxury is not about a Louis Vuitton bag or a Ferrari, it's about clean air, clean water, clean energy."
He said designers should not wait around for politicians or corporations to ask them to solve big problems but should instead start grassroots movements for change.
"Don't wait for permission; start working, start acting," he said. That's what the world needs today. It's about big challenges, big designs, big proposals but it's also about making it really small and showing the beauty of the world."
Roosegaarde is tacking pollution with Smog Free Tower
Roosegaarde has received worldwide recognition for his Smog Free Tower project, which removes pollutants from the air. Initiated four years ago, the project is now expanding to India, Columbia, Mexico and Poland.
The project began four years ago with a Kickstarter campaign and the towers have already appeared in Beijing, Rotterdam and Milan.
"Nobody called me four years ago and said 'Will you please make a smog-free tower?'" Roosegaarde said. "That didn't happen. We started it ourselves, we did a Kickstarter campaign, we just launched it then the media picked it up and then suddenly the governments started to wake up."
Rotterdam-based Roosegaarde has also launched a Smog Free Ring, which contains carbon removed from the air in Beijing by the Smog Free Towers.
"This is Beijing smog," he said, holding up a bag of black carbon particles, which make up 42 per cent of the pollutants captured by his towers. "This is in our lungs right now. If you are in Oxford Street in London, or Beijing, it's the same as smoking 17 cigarettes per day in a passive way that you inhale. This is not the good world that we envisioned."
Each ring contains compressed carbon – the element that forms diamonds – representing a thousand square metres of polluted air. "By sharing a ring you donate a thousand cubic meters of clean air to the city," he said. "We have wedding couples purchasing the rings to get married."
Designers focused on sustainability at Dutch Design Week
Speaking to Dezeen in Eindhoven during Dutch Design Week last month, Roosegaarde praised the way that young designers exhibiting in the city were turning their attention away from luxury goods and expensive furniture.
"It's really good to see Dutch Design Week shifting that focus," he said. "Design can improve life."
Roosegaarde said that radical new ideas are required to help bring about a shift in attitudes around the world. "It's very clear the existing system is crashing in terms of the economy, in terms of the air pollution," he said. "Right now cities have become machines that are killing us."
Designers have been unconsciously complicit in creating the problems the world faces, he suggested. "Somehow the situation we are in is bad design, it's unconscious design," he said. "We're designing a world that has CO2 emissions, pollution etc. My proposal would be: let's design our way out of it!"
During Dutch Design Week, Dezeen hosted a series of talks which discussed how design can help tackle major problems the world is facing.