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Product, Service & Design Innovation
The Urban Sun:
A Light at the End of the COVID Tunnel?

Combining art, creativity, architecture and science, Daan Roosegaarde and his team of designers, experts and scientists have found a radical way to clean public spaces of coronavirus — with light.

COVID-19 stopped the world in its tracks last year — with most interactions being relegated to screens, and our need for human contact overridden by social distancing, curfews and lockdowns. In this challenging time, people need a beacon of hope and inspiration for a brighter future — and that is what Studio Roosegaarde has created with its latest project, the Urban Sun.

“Right now, we are victims of our future — when, in fact, we need to be the architects,” Daan Roosegaarde told Sustainable Brands™. “When COVID started kicking in, I asked myself: What is the role of the designer? What is the role of the architect in a world where nature and the environment is taking over?”

The answer to his questions came in the form of an Urban Sun, situated in Rotterdam. Roosegaarde and his team discovered that they could sanitize airspace within minutes using the power of light travelling at 300km/sec.

“In 2018, I was reading this scientific journal in Nature, and it mentioned far-UVC. The scientist explained that it is different from normal UV light, which we all know is harmful. Far-UVC light has a very specific wavelength, which is shorter (222 nm) than UV light (245 nm) and appears unharmful to people and animals; however, it has the capability of killing viruses.”

And sure enough, after 14 months of designing, Roosegaarde and his team delivered. Utilizing the power of light and aligning design with science, the Urban Sun has been scientifically proven to sanitise up to 99.9 percent of coronavirus from the air. It is this difference in wavelength that makes the far-UVC harmful to bacteria and viruses.

The project offers a solution to current and future virus outbreaks, allowing us stronger control over future pandemics. Roosegaarde asserts:

“We have taken ownership of a very complicated situation. The Urban Sun allows people to visit public spaces that are continuously sanitised. And it works on all viruses, not just COVID-19 — so people would be protected from influenza, for example, and future viruses.”

The project itself does not claim to be ‘the cure’ for coronavirus but offers a solution for reducing the risk of infection outdoors — allowing us to finally return to safely meeting outdoors and move away from what Roosegaarde calls our “curated Zoom and Facebook bubble.”

Roosegaarde and his team have proved the technology works, and it appears that we are just scratching the surface for light sanitisation.

“Within the realms of UV, there are thresholds of UV that you can receive by the safety standard — that is the amount of radiation that everyone worldwide says is safe, and this UV has the same safety value,” he explained. However, Roosegaarde pointed out that this value was decided in the ‘70s; and renowned scientists have since then said that this value can go twenty times higher than the current safety value.

“Scientists have now made an official proposal to the community to look at that value; and when the higher threshold gets approved somewhere in the coming 12-15 months, we can do twenty times more, twenty times faster, twenty times bigger. The technology and design is evolving — we are just in the pioneering phase, and there is still so much more to explore.”

The technology is readily available, and it is now up to us to decide how we implement it into society: “I think the tech itself will grow to become available for airplanes, schools or elevators, for example,” Roosegaarde says. “But that's not us as a design studio — that is for the tech industry to decide.”

The Urban Sun was created by Roosegaarde’s team, along with scientists assembled from Japan, Italy, the US and the Netherlands. Its design showcases a light with a yellow ring around the edge — the astronomical visualisation of a corona. So, the yellow ring around the Urban Sun symbolises the very thing it is seeking to protect us from.

“As the sun uses UV light, your eye cannot see it — and how do you show invisible light? You add visible light. People need to see things; and that is the role of the designer — to allow people to visualise the experience. That's also part of the innovation; it’s not just technical innovation, it’s also social innovation.”

The light itself is powered through electricity; however, it uses very little energy — around 300-400 watts. Roosegaarde explained that it can be powered through solar panels, or through a battery charged by solar panels: “Throughout the design, we look at energy use and the materials we can use — from a design principle at default, we want to get maximum performance with minimum needs.”

The Urban Sun is a radical innovation that offers a way to ease the harsh restrictions and social implications that COVID-19 and future viruses might bring into our world.

“This project really represents what the future might look like, and it's real; the Urban Sun exists. It’s not just an imagined utopia, it’s a reality. We need to show our generation, and the generation after us that there is beauty in the new world and it is this beauty that will help us accept change. It can't be just numbers and politicians telling us what to do. We need to showcase that innovation can be done; and with this, open up people's minds. The future will be built through curiosity and design, and beauty will be the trigger.”*