This story appears in the February 2018 issue of National Geographic magazine.
Daan Roosegaarde—urban architect, innovator, and night diver—finds bioluminescent plankton inspiring. “They don’t have a battery, they don’t have an energy bill, they don’t have a maintenance contract,” he says. “What can we learn from them?”
That question drives Roosegaarde’s life’s work: drawing on nature to make cities more efficient and more beautiful without damaging our planet.
To emulate plankton that emit light, Roosegaarde and his colleagues embedded solar-powered stones in the bike path seen here. The path is in Nuenen in the Netherlands—onetime home of Vincent van Gogh—so the glowing stones were arranged to resemble the artist’s masterwork “The Starry Night.”
The Dutch innovator considers it “weird” that people focus on vehicles but neglect the surfaces they drive on: “Infrastructure defines our cities and landscapes way more than the cars.” He flips that focus with inventions for roads—paint that changes color when the temperature drops, lanes that charge the electric cars driving on them, and reflective lines powered by urban lighting.
In a nation that lies below sea level, Roosegaarde takes this work personally: “Without technology and good design,” he says, “we would literally drown.”