Perfumer Gabriela Maldonado Recreates the Scent of Sao Paolo in Pollution Pods by Michael Pinsky

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Climate change is one of the most pervasive and threatening issues of our time, with far-reaching impacts in the twenty-first century,” observes the United Nations Environment Programme. In 2017, artist Michael Pinsky was commissioned by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), as part of Climart, to create Pollution Pods, with the support of BuildwithHubs, which explores how visual art affects viewer perceptions of climate change.

First launched at the Starmus Festival in Norway last summer, more than 20,000 have experienced the pods in cities including Vancouver, London and Geneva. The pods will also be outside the European Parliament in Brussels this October.

Uncommon Sense at Work 

We collaborated on the artwork, which is composed of five connected domes. Each pod represents a city, and each takes visitors into a simulation of the pollution of five major cities, via scent, temperature and humidity, complete with an olfactory experience crafted by an IFF perfumer.


Together with our scent team, led by Master Perfumer Stephen Nicolls, Judith Gross, VP, Creation & Design, Brand and Marketing, and Trends Marketing Manager, Bernardo Juan Fleming, our perfumers developed: Norway by Nelly Hachem-Ruiz, London by Laura French, Beijing by Dino Kong, Sao Paulo by Gabriela Maldonado, Delhi by Avinash Mali.

Aligned with IFF’s purpose to redefine how we live in and care for the resources of our world and our commitment to sustainability, it was not only an opportunity to build a bridge between art and science to help safeguard life on our planet but also an exciting way to push the boundaries of what is possible as pioneers of the senses. Each perfumer has a personal connection to the locations represented by the pods and they combined their local expertise with our proprietary palette of ingredients & technologies to create a realistic and vivid simulation of the air quality.

Discover Sao Paolo by Gabriela Maldonado 

“Sao Paulo is an amazing city, full or warm and festive people, despite all challenges the country is facing, you really feel welcome and one of them,” says junior perfumer Gabriela Maldonado Gasca, who is based in our Tambore creative center in Brazil. “The City is very humid, about 80% of the year. It is crossed by Tietê river (which, unfortunately carries wastewater). One of the main roads (Marginal Tietê / Pinheiros) in Sao Paulo runs parallel to this river.” 

“Brazil is one of the largest producers of alcohol fuel in the world. This alcohol is being used for new technologies involving flexible fuel engines, which work with gasoline, alcohol or any mixture of both fuels. Nowadays, more than 88% of new vehicles sold in Brazil run on flex fuels. “When you arrive in the city, the river view is amazing! The cars running alongside it, all day long… But then you open the window and immediately, the smell hits you - the contaminated odor from the river combined with the car emissions. The theme of my scent is inspired by the pollution generated by flex cars and the watery, ozonic / rotten effect from the Tietê river.” 

Gabriela Maldonado

Her Favorite Olfactive Memory: 

“One of my first trips to Sao Paulo included a tourist visit to the Mercado Municipal. It is a very big market where you can find all types of fruits, a lot of them I had never seen before… My favorite memory comes from this mixture of exotic fruits; juicy, sparkling, vibrant, sweet, acid… I feel very lucky to be surrounded by all these new inspirations.” 

How Can Pollution Pods Help? 

“These types of initiatives are helping the world´s population to realize that we need to act immediately to heal our planet. The pollution pods approach is interesting because it allows people to experience pollution through the sense of smell, which is the sense that triggers memories. If we are aware of what we are doing to our planet, through our olfactive memory, every time we smell pollution we will remember this moment and we will have second thoughts about our actions.” 

Her Project Highlights 

“I am really happy to be part of this initiative. It’s very gratifying to be to be part of the action to change the perception of the issue, and to challenge everyone to make a difference. It was a very interesting experience, since as a perfumer, we create perfumes, using notes and accords that are appealing and liked by consumers. In this experience, the opposite approach had to be taken in consideration…How to create a smell representative of the pollution that we face daily. It also allowed me to learn about the situation big cities like Sao Paulo are struggling with and how we can all contribute to making it better. For instance, the City is working on more bike lines to encourage residents to leave their cars at home.” 

The Takeaway

“Visitors are welcome to experience, in a genuine way, the negative impact we are generating to our planet, but most of all, after their visit, I hope they feel inspired to make a difference, to contaminate less, to spread the word and to understand that we need to act not only for our future, but that we need to act NOW so we can have a future.”

The #PollutionPods Experience 

The art exhibit is currently on tour. Keep up with the latest news, events, dates and video here: michaelpinsky.com/news

Follow the conversation on social media: #PollutionPods

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