Daan Roosegaarde develops Urban Sun to clean public spaces of coronavirus

Studio Roosegaarde has built a UV light that can be installed in public spaces, allowing people to meet with less fear of contracting Covid-19.

Urban Sun is designed to sanitise any surface it comes into contact with, meaning that coronavirus is unable to spread there.

It does this using far-UVC light – a specific type of ultraviolet (UV) light with a wavelength that is proven to kill viruses but is safe for humans and animals to come into contact with.

Urban Sun installation by Daan Roosegaarde
Urban Sun was unveiled in a launch event in Rotterdam

Studio founder Daan Roosegaarde told Dezeen that the aim is to make public gatherings possible for the first time since Covid-19 became a global epidemic.

“We can make places 99.9 per cent virus free in minutes, so the chance of getting sick or infecting each other is strongly diminished,” he said.

Looking up at Urban Sun
The device cleans public spaces of coronavirus using far-UVC light

While Urban Sun does not cure people already infected with the virus, nor prevent people from contracting the virus in future, it can provide safety in typically busy locations, such as train stations, schools and public squares, by preventing transmission of the virus.

It works by being installed overhead on a system of cables, so it can shine a large circle of sanitising light onto a space below.

“The goal is not to say that we don’t need the vaccine or we that don’t need masks,” said Roosegaarde. “Urban Sun doesn’t cure coronavirus, but it does allow social gatherings to be safer.”

Hand touching under Urban Sun
It is designed to allow people to gather without fear of contracting Covid-19

Studio Roosegaarde unveiled the first Urban Sun in a launch event yesterday in Rotterdam, where the studio is based.

The design was developed in collaboration with scientists and researchers from the USA, Japan, Italy and the Netherlands.

It is based on research published in 2018 by Columbia University and Hiroshima University showing that while traditional 254nm UV light is harmful to humans, far-UVC light with a wavelength of 222 nanometers is safe. Both are effective at killing viruses.

Zoomed-out view of Urban Sun
Urban Sun shines a circle of sanitising light onto the space below

The technology is already being developed for use in indoor spaces. Boeing is looking to integrate it into its aeroplanes to enable safer air travel, for instance. But Roosegaarde said he is the first to try to make it work outdoors.

He hopes to take Urban Sun to large-scale events such as the Olympic Games or Burning Man Festival but also believes it could be used to create safer gathering spaces at design fairs and festivals such as the Salone del Mobile in Milan or the Venice Architecture Biennale.

Visual of Urban Sun in a city
Daan Roosegaarde hopes to scale the project up for use in cities

The studio modelled the prototype to work in Somerset House in London.

“Big cultural events are crucial to our culture, but right now we are surrounded by plastic barriers and distance stickers, and we’re trapped in our Zoom screens,” Roosegaarde told Dezeen.

“We need to design our new normal because if we are not the architects of our future we are its victims.”

Urban Sun at Somerset House
The initial design was modelled on Somerset House in London

Roosegaarde often works with light in his designs. As well as creating visual installations, he is interested in using light as a tool to solve design problems.

Examples include Grow, a light installation designed to highlight the beauty of agriculture while also improving crop growth, and Space Waste Lab, which used light to track pieces of space waste.

The designer decided to explore the potential of far-UVC after reading about it in a science journal. He self-funded the pilot Urban Sun, to get the idea off the ground.

Daan Roosegaarde
Roosegaarde decided to explore the potential of far-UVC after reading about it in a science journal

Roosegaarde hopes the product will help to speed up public acceptance of the technology and encourage other designers to work with it.

He said the design meets the safety standards of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, while its light source is calibrated by the Dutch National Metrology Institute.

“I’m not a scientist, I’m not the inventor of the far-UVC. What I can do is activate it and share it,” he said.

Movie is by MediaMonks and Studio Roosegaarde. Photography is by Willem de Kam, Ossip van Duivenbode and Daan Roosegaarde.