Dutch Design Week Eindhoven

Edition 29 November 2019, by Phoebe Potter

To add to Eindhoven’s already illustrious record as a city close to the centre of the design industry’s world, it has recently broken another record with the 17th Dutch Design Week. Running from 20-28 October, 335,000 people visited the exhibits – 20,000 more than ever before. With over 2,600 designers in attendance to show their latest work to the public, the Design Week was spread over 120 locations, flowing out from the centre of the city. Almost 500 exhibitions, lectures, tours and presentations attracted the attention of a significant number of visitors from abroad – 21% of visitors – a figure which greatly pleased Martijn Paulen, the director of the Dutch Design Foundation and organizer of the DDW. ‘This is a sign that we are becoming increasingly respected abroad,’ he remarked, ‘I sincerely hope that this will bring special opportunities for all designers.’

Amongst those visiting from abroad was the Ambassador from Bangladesh, whom Paulen was particularly pleased to see at the event in Eindhoven. ‘It turned out to be the fourth time he had visited; he knew the DDW and was mainly interested in new developments in the field of fabrics.’ Paulen was also thrilled to meet visitors from as far as New Zealand. The various exhibitions showed a huge range, from experienced designers to new faces, and from the fun to the profound. At one end of the spectrum, the project ‘We are Human Rights’, highlighted by Ravi Naidoo of Design Indaba, left a significant impact on visitors. Created by Studio Bernhard Lenger, the exhibition linked seven champions of human rights from different countries to seven different designers. The task for the designers? To delve deep into the world of the activists and come up with innovative ways to help them in their work. Naidoo commented: ‘By creating new solutions and tools, these designers hope to create a better understanding of issues relating to international law and human rights; human rights are universal and for everyone, which is an issue that should be discussed every day.’

For a new generation of designers studying at Eindhoven’s famous DAE (Design Academy Eindhoven), this year was the first time that their work was presented outside of the walls of their academy. The young designers’ works were exhibited in the grounds of the former Campina Melkfabriek. Creative director Joseph Grima noted the significance of the location. ‘The current status of design has given us, as a professional group, a position in which we can exert unrivalled influence on our shared future,’ he commented. And there’s certainly a lot to see – 185 graduates created 208 different projects, all displayed in the new location. The week wasn’t just limited to exhibitions on display – visitors could immerse themselves in the design experience. Kazerne, a home for design which was completely renovated this year, allowed visitors to mix the exhibition with their stay. Unique in its design space, Kazerne holds over 2,000 square metres of exhibition space alongside a restaurant, multifunctional hall and design shop. Not stopping at this, there are also eight hotel rooms, a second restaurant and a ‘creative club’ – in fact a casual living room for guests. Particular design highlights, which are present throughout the building, are Ontwerpduo’s LED lighting installation and Aleksandra Gaa’s new collection of ‘acoustic textiles.’ Politics is not shied away from at the Design Week, and Anna Jensen, who recently graduated from the DAE, is taking an innovative stance against a classic problem: manspreading. Encouraging women to take on the typically male practice of marking territory by taking up physical space on the tram or tube, Jensen created a series of chairs for public spaces which – in their unique design – guide women into taking back space. The activist attitude is prolific across the exhibitions. Exploring the event, one can find a ‘smartphone destructor’ and even a chair several metres high, to draw attention to the danger of rising sea levels. Spearheaded by young graduates, it seems the new generation is branching away from typical Dutch design. Even complex political ideas are made simple by design. Young designer Martina Huynh has tackled an innovative political idea through an innovation of her own in design. The issue of universal basic income is not normally associated with design, but this designer has created a ‘Basic Income Café’ to help clarify the idea. Walking in, your first cup of coffee is free, but the second you have to pay for – mimicking the standardized amount of money given to everyone, before any additional income has to be earned.

One may think that with the way the world is moving in the 21st century, the Design Week would be a hotbed of technological innovation. Rather, one finds a certain pushback against traditional technology. With so much going on these days on the intangible internet, physical alternatives of representation are desperately sought. Take for instance German student Thomas Stratmann’s inventory of all attacks on German asylum seeker centres since 1992. In a labour of commitment, he built a wooden replica of every single building, before faithfully burning them all down. Placing the buildings on a metre-long shelf, the physical burning becomes a timeline – the smell of scorching air an alternative to a stream of angry twitter posts.

The lines between design and other concepts is hazy. Perhaps no more so than in designer duo Merle Flügge and Job Mouwen’s exhibition, which is based around the premise that objects and furniture are becoming more and more ‘alive’. Taking this idea to the next level, they have designed a series of objects which can be considered more ‘pets’ than ‘furniture’. The arrival of artificial intelligence and robotics has changed much of our daily life. ‘This will also change our relationship with objects,’ suggests Mouwen. ‘We believe that in the future we will experience furniture and things more like pets with a form of consciousness, which will lead to a change and possibly change our view of things, objects and furniture.’ Based on a deeper philosophical approach, the duo consider themselves ‘animists’ – believing that people are not central to the universe, but instead that we should ‘value stuff and animals in the same way as people, which is perhaps radical. But we mean it in a positive way and we question the current worldview in which people are central.’ Mouwen explains how this translates onto their designs. ‘If you see a chair in your living room as a pet,’ he claims, ‘you deal with it in a different way, you pay more attention to it and you treat it differently.’ They also focus on objects which can have a versatile functions. ‘If an object only has one function,’ says Flügge, ‘you can only create a user-object relationship. Through a colourful and playful design, with multi-interpretable functions, our objects are perceived as ‘creatures’. That elicits a more emotional relationship.’ These radical ideas could have a bright future. The duo are currently working with Interactive Robotics from Delft on a chair that can perceive the emotions in a meeting. Flügge explains: ‘If things get out of hand or emotions run high, then a chair that is free can suddenly scuttle to the corner as if it were scared. That breaks the tension in the room and readjusts the social structure.’

All in all, from fresh faces to experienced designers, the Dutch Design Week has once again pushed the boundaries of design and opened up a new world of possibilities. The only question left to ask is what possible new experiences next year’s event could bring.