While the Chinese government makes plans to fight deadly levels of smog by building a new power grid and getting old cars off the road, a Dutch artist living in Beijing is tackling the problem on a smaller scale: Daan Roosegaarde wants to suck pollution from the city's air and turn it into high-end jewelry.
Using technology that attracts pollution through static electricity, Roosegaarde plans to pull smog from a 40-by-40 meter chunk above a city park. The same tech is already used on a smaller scale at hospitals to filter air, and the designer's team is developing a lightweight, modular version that they plan to install in the park next year.
"It is a strange process to suck the pollution out of the air and have it in our hands a few minutes later," Roosegaarde says. "It looks like a mystic black powder, but most mesmerizing about this is that normally you would have to breathe it."
The designers will take the dirty air collected by the machine and transform it into rings. One version will hold a clear stone containing a tiny cube of soot; another will be processed into a fake diamond.
"I wanted to make people part of the solution, not part of the problem," Roosegarde says. "Making tangible and wearable material of the smog is a way of creating awareness. By buying or sharing the smog ring you donate 1,000 cubic meters of clean air to the city."
Of course, the machine in the park won't make much of a difference in the city's air as a whole—or treat the underlying causes of the pollution—but Roosegaarde hopes it might remind people of what clean air looks like and why it's worth fighting for.
"By creating the cleanest park in Beijing, you create an experience of how the future will look, what it will feel like," he says. "People will see all the differences in between the old and the new air. They can feel it, smell it, and breathe it. This will create an incentive to update the whole city such as electric cars, clean industry, cycling. Our smog project stands as a springboard for other initiatives, to update reality."