Numéro had the honor of exploring Waterlicht. Which is one of the many in the DreamScapes series brought to life by the design studio Roosegaarde. A Dream turned into reality, where they showcase the beauty of what a future sustainable society could be. The dreams start with the visionary Daan Roosegaarde, he wants to show the world that the future is something to be excited about, and he wants to share his passion and spark our curiosity. The first four DreamScapes are GROW, Urban Sun, Seeing Stars, and SPARK.

What is the main message behind the DreamScape Waterlicht? 
Waterlicht has been an ongoing project of our studio. It has already been on show in London, New York, Paris, Rotterdam, and many others. But this one is very special to me because of the location. Slot Loevestein is a world UNESCO heritage site, which has been living with water for the past 700 years. They have been fighting the water, as they have to pump to keep the water away. If they stop pumping the castle floods. So this is the real world; If humans don’t interfere, Waterlicht will become reality. Waterlicht shows the sea level that will rise to 2 and a half meters before the year 2100. The blue light you see represents the flood and the rising sea level. At the same time, we highlight the historical castle in red so that visitors can have a sense of space. It makes the whole DreamScape look a bit overwhelming, it makes people wonder, Is this our future world? But the main goal is to make it a place of wonder.

In the show ‘Waterlicht’ which we just saw tonight, you want to show the special and fragile relationship with water. What is the thing which inspires you the most about water and how do you see humans being in symbiosis with nature?
500 years ago humanity thought the earth was the center of the universe, and that all the planets, stars and the sun turned around the earth. But then Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galileo, and Johannes Kepler came around and said no… in fact, the earth is turning around the sun. Everyone was annoyed by this idea, they did not like it. But now of course we know this to be the truth. The geocentric model changed and so did our perspectives. Now we are moving even further to the ecocentric model; where we believe in the importance of the ecosystem as a whole, with equal importance to living and non-living components of ecosystems. A model where we view the earth to be the center of everything. 

For the longest time, humans thought we could dominate and control nature. For instance the rising sea levels, nature, climate change in general and even more recent covid. But actually, the question that I am constantly asking is; “How can we learn from nature and find a new balance?” For instance by bringing back stars or showing the rising sea levels. Display a sense of urgency and a call to action. A good idea inspires, but a great idea activates. 

As a change-maker, how do you think art can shift people’s fear and ignorance about the future into curiosity and interest?
Some say that the future is frozen. When I talk to my students they say; “The challenges are so big that they freeze us. As a result, we are afraid, and we would rather watch Netflix and not think about it.” This is what motivates me, I hope that my installations make people curious about the future instead of being scared. I want to show people the issue and let them experience it for themselves. The lights in Waterlicht signify both the future and hope. All my projects revolve around the notion of celebrating or experiencing nature in new ways. Without mobile phones, without feeding the robots of social media, but together. I think it is all about the collective. In that way the catholic church – I am not religious at all – understood it well. They used the power of storytelling. There was a church, there was god, there was light and there was a language most people did not understand; Latin. The church let a whole community experience something together, which elevated them. 

You are always connecting art to a cause. Art, on the other hand, is frequently associated with aesthetics and beauty; what does beauty mean to you?
People are more willing to embrace change when they are surrounded by beauty. I believe that we should consider how we can use the strategy of beauty to help people to embrace change, particularly in the fields of fashion and design. Beauty has incredible power; you can see something and desire to be a part of it even if you don’t understand what it is. Most of the time when we talk about the future we talk about numbers; degrees, centimeters, carbon-neutral, most unsexy, and un-activating words ever. Imagine you’re dating somebody and this person tells you: love of my life, this year we are gonna go neutral, we are gonna do it 5% less bad than last year! You would dump him, right? But this is how we’re talking about the future of climate or earth, not with feelings but with numbers and in scary terms. Mostly in a negative way, talking only about reduction. If we would use the strategy of beauty, we could help people to be more open about the future. 

You use creativity a lot right, could you say that it is your main tool? 
It is our true capital.

How do you vision the future?
Robots and machines will take over a lot of things in the future; they will be accountants, driving cars, etc, but does that mean we become robot food? Instead, we can choose to enhance our human skills. And see what sets us apart from the machines. And that thing is being creative. Machines and computers are really bad at being creative, they suck at that. 

So it will be something that sets us apart as humans, our creativity?
Yeah! Robots need to become more robots and humans need to become more human. This will build a new harmony in which we appreciate the wonders of robots while also seeing what makes humans so valuable. It’s all about not being afraid of the future, but rather being inspired by it.

You mentioned that you disliked school and felt restricted as a child because the school system was primarily focused on knowledge rather than creativity. What would you tell your 10-year-old self or the school system now that the emphasis of your career is creativity?
The school system is linear, it is too restrictive. Both of my parents are teachers and still, I got kicked out of fine art school twice! 80% of what I’m doing now I was never educated for. To my 10-year-old self, I would say: don’t be scared, be curious, believe in your ideas and invest in them. Also, an important thing I learned is that you don’t own an idea; you surrender to it. The idea will guide you and it is going to be okay, stop worrying that much. 

What should be the change within the linear school system? 
It should be about hybrid thinking. I think it should be more about making connections and designing new links more about humanity. With new values; clean air, clean water, clean energy.  

So soft economy?
Exactly, more value-driven instead of profit-driven.  

Our current issue is themed balance, what does balance mean in your life?
When doing something new it’s always about balance; if you go too far everybody thinks that you’re crazy and it will never happen, but if you stay too safe everybody thinks you’re boring. A balance between radical and not crazy and at the same time making it happen. So you are always trying to find the edge of what is, and what is not possible. You can create new standards, setting a new default, by showing other people that it can be done. About collaboration, about dialogue, showing that it can be done.  A balance between nature and people, about having control and letting go. For instance with Waterlicht, in a way, I control it but at the same time not really because I’m still dependent on the weather, so the outcome will still always be surprising. That makes it exciting, to always be sparked by inspiration and surprising outcomes. 

Daan managed to sweep us off our feet with the incredible DreamScape WaterLicht. This is why we’re excited to hear about his other upcoming initiatives, such as Seeing Stars. On September 25, Studio Roosegaarde, in collaboration with the city of Leiden, will turn down all the lights so that we can view the magnificent stars that we sometimes seem to have forgotten about. All of the projects have a deeper meaning; they are initiatives that make you wonder and spark conversations about what the world and our nature could be like. Roosegaarde’s uninhibited excitement is contagious, and it has inspired us to look forward. It’s welcoming to think about the future in a creative and hopeful way, which studio Roosegaarde’s works push you to do.

We would like to conclude with repeating the quote from Daan that truly struck a chord with us;

A good idea inspires, but a great idea activates.


Thanks to Daan Roosegaarde
Interview by Thelma Pailhoux & Aïcha Pilmeyer
Written by Aïcha Pilmeyer