They say “third time’s the charm”, but for me my fourth time was the charm. Since moving to Amsterdam in August 2016 the annual Dutch Design Week (DDW) has very much been a part of my experience here; travelling down to Eindhoven each year since 2016 (making 2019 my fourth time) has always been a highlight and something I look forward to. My method for these first three years was to either walk around aimlessly or rush to try and see as many things as possible; both are good but nothing really sticks. However, this year I decided to plan better by curating my options and choosing to only check out a handful of projects and exploring these in depth.
Each year DDW has a theme to help promote the event and recently, to ask a question to start a conversation and a red thread through all the work on show. Previous themes have been “What if…”, “The making of”, “If not us then who? and for 2019 it was “If not now, then when?”
“We live in a paradoxical era: Although today there are endless possibilities in the field of design, technology and new materials, there is an inevitable flow of major issues that is increasing faster than ever before. The urgency of these issues will only increase, but will the possibilities follow at the same pace?
Last year, the theme “If not us, then who?” focused on taking responsibility in making choices, as (a.o.) policy makers, users, clients and designers. This year’s theme is an appeal for follow-up action and is therefore literally a call to action. Don’t postpone your plans, ideas and visions for the future any longer, but do it now! If not now, then when?!”
As with the previous years, my highlight was the Design Academy Eindhoven graduation show for its progressive student work; many of which explored our impact on the environment (a general theme across the DDW) and sustainability in general. For example, Dorian Renard, in his piece: The Beauty of Distortion, uses distorted plastic sheets and tubes to create beautiful, almost liquid like furniture and sculpture in an attempt to use this appealing aesthetic to subvert our negative opinions of plastic.
“Today, plastic has a negative connotation. The material has permeated all uses, and with its ubiquitous proliferation it finally ended up having a disgraceful reputation. Is it possible to shift towards a new understanding of what this material could evoke?”
Also exploring our environmental impact was Pauline Kolton, who, with her piece The Traveller, uses clothing to make us as wearers aware of our habits as consumers. Three wearable coats act as luggage meaning when you travel you have to carry all your belongings on your body; making you physically feel the weight of your luggage as the amount of luggage you carry says a lot about your habits of consumption. The lightest coat is The Pragmatic and the most is The Fearful. The third is The Undecided which can be adapted to take more or less.
“Consumerism is altering our perception between needs and desires to make us feel that we always need more. We can observe this back into our packing behaviour. When going out of our comfort zone, we pack what we need. In reality, most of us believe our desires are needs and therefore pack too much.”
This edition of the graduation show was the second time it took place at the Campina Melkfabriek which I think suits the work; having seen the show both here and at the school itself in 2016 & 2017, it’s nice to see it outside the academic surroundings.
Another stand-out place during DDW is the Strijp-S area of the city where lots of activities take place; the area is a former industrial area of Philips and since 2000, creative companies and housing have been established in the former industrial buildings. Some of the places for DDW include the Klokgbeouw (Clock Building), Veemgebouw (Warehouse Building), Ketelhuis (Kettle House) and Ketelhuisplein.
Inside the Veemgebouw (called VEEM during DDW) was two floors of diverse and exciting projects, DDW say themselves here you will “discover surprising collaborations between designers and creative makers on an international level. It is the place where established names as well as young talent present their work sharing a common ground: material development and craft. VEEM focuses on projects with a conceptual and aesthetic approach”. Every time I have been here there has been something which stands out and this time it was two projects which lived harmoniously together by Lennart Lauren (Leerdam brothers): Paperthin and Beams.
Paperthin is a series of stools and benches made using traditional metal can production methods which entails rolling a thin metal sheet into a round shape whilst adding rolling lines. These stools and benches are a modern interpretation of this method resulting in beautifully delicate yet strong furniture; they demonstrate the strengths of transforming a weakness through simple techniques.
Beams is a series of folded aluminum sheets, connected by rivets to create a strong and lightweight construction method which in turn can be used to create benches, stools, tables and room dividers. These take the form of a recognisably industrial object but through the light metal material become something desirable.
There was a great play between the two pieces: colour vs monochrome, shiny vs matte, round vs angled. They were clearly different but it was obvious they where part of the same collection from their industrial-inspired design.
As I mentioned earlier there are always lots of places and things to see at the Strijp-S area but despite it’s allure and size, I’ve never really found the Klokgebouw space to be that interesting; it usually feels like a bit of a trade fair or convention where people in suits are trying to shift their latest design or invention. However, when looking at the programme something really grabbed my attention which was a project by Tomi Laukkanen: Worthy. Laukkanen created this project whilst at the Royal College of Art and it was designed to focus on the problem of electrical waste; the fastest growing waste stream in the world with small electrical pieces being the biggest part.
Through his research he learnt that consumers don’t know how their products work which is why most people don’t try to repair them when they break. Applying this research to small rechargeable products he created a set of personal hygiene devices which use standard batteries allowing them to be replaced easily. Each device comes in a box, in pieces, meaning the consumer must learn how it works and how it goes together before they can actually use it. Therefore educating them with the idea that if it breaks they are able to repair it themselves. It is not only a clever idea but the aesthetics of the devices are very minimal and modern using a refined colour palette to create beautiful objects.
Just around the corner from the Strijp-S area at DDW is the Piet Hein Eek area which is basically the Piet Hein Eek factory/showroom/shop/restaurant etc. This was something new for me which I liked as it was different; a lot of the DDW event is about celebrating the future of design or how design can be used to answer the world’s problems. So much so that at times it is hard to understand or actually see the actual “design”.
At the Piet Hein Eek showroom however it was very clear, and it felt very much like classic Dutch Design of the 1990/2000s from the likes of Droog and Moooi. Eek’s work has the trademark characteristics of this classic Dutch Design to: combining traditional methods with obscure materials resulting in something fun, quirky and often humorous.
Eek’s furniture is regularly made from recycled scrap wood (he graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven in 1990 with a cupboard made of scrap wood: the Classic Cupboard) and I was specifically attracted to his Hoogglans/High Gloss furniture which was literally scrap wood glued together into a sturdy table and chairs and then coated in three layers of clear gloss; sealing the table, covering the imperfections between the pieces of wood and creating a hyper-glossy surface which reflected light beautifully. It also amazed me how he was able to take such an undesirable material into something so appealing and also charge upwards of €10,000 for it.
“In general people know me from my scrap wood products, when I started with it, that was not done so it was totally new, when products where totally perfect, that you introduced a rough product. We started with metal and wood immediately but also ceramics, upholstery and a lot of machines which we used how they shouldn’t be but we just put different materials in the machines… Waste should be treated as gold, and the labour and time it takes to transform it is almost worthless.”
Following the theme of exploring new places, I decided to check out the Design Perron which takes place at the Opvallers building near the train station which very much fits the DDW mentality of if there’s an available space, fill it with design. This year it was filled with lots of student work which I enjoy as it feels relatable and students often have no fear to do something different.
One project which stood out here was Party Susan by Lotte Cremers from AKV|St. Joost academy which, to put very simply, was piles of coloured Tupperware but it looked beautiful. Choosing such a mundane object, Cremers introduces the audience to her way of looking at the details of everyday stuff.
“By setting an aesthetically inspired context, with retrospective effect she tries to demonstrate the power of a designer with respect to value change. She hopes it can trigger a debate about value, even in a commercial world.
The choice of a muted colour palette and relatable texture creates an appealing and quite satisfying image through the way they are neatly composed and the general art direction.
Another new venue was the Pennings Foundation gallery which was the home to Isola Design District, a marketing project created by Blank who aim to provide a platform and visibility to emerging designers and artists within the recently regenerated Isola neighbourhood in Milan. The Isola Design District takes place each year during Milan Design Week and for DDW they moved their event to Eindhoven, choosing 35 designers to exhibit.
Some of the themes which the event’s exhibitors focus on are sustainability, innovation, new materials and craftsmanship. One project here which echoed the DDW common theme of sustainability was Lume by Australian designer Jake Williamson. In a similar way to Piet Hein Eek’s tables which are made from scrap wood, Williamson has created stunningly simple lamps from scrap, recycled paper in an attempt to re-imagine the possibilities of paper waste; something we create in abundance. The lamps are made from curved paper pulp and through the colour, the way they hang and the method of production, they look like delicate ceramic lamps.
“They [Isola Design District] are looking at some things that are really potent and on point at the moment of new materials and sustainability and making things of value from something which doesn’t have value. In an age where we’re running low on a lot of resources we’ve got to look to new places for new resources.”
Another equally as beautiful lamp/light which is possibly less sustainable but more refined (a matter of taste I suppose) where those designed by Oikoi: an Italian lighting brand with two designers Erika Baffico and Sebastiano Tonelli. The name Oikoi is derived from the Greek term Oikos indicating the house and the series of rooms composed by it.
On display was their Odo pendant light made from two concentric circles of aluminium and glass and suspended by a cord tied around the top; allowing the light to be aimed by turning. Coming in three colours, the light is designed to emanate two strengths of light for different uses; one is direct through the printed texture and another is indirect by the outer edges which glows like a halo. It is impressive to see how such a simple shape can become so nice to look at; the contrast of the perfect circle/donut shape with the roughness of the knotted cord is also satisfying to look at.
In general, the Isola Design District is an interesting concept, moving from their regular Milan Design Week space to DDW; it seems logical as it allows a totally different culture and audience to interpret their style of design. Isola Design District will exhibit again at Milan Design Week in 2020; you can find out more and even apply here.
Finally, when I got home, I looked through all the leaflets, business cards, brochures and hand-outs I picked up and remembered about seeing some VBAT work at DDW, in the Klokgebouw and specifically in a display called ‘goed industrieel ontwerp/good industrial design’. The work in the display space was the “Heineken Iconic Outdoor Sign” aka the sign which hangs outside Heineken licensed bars; it’s instantly recognisable as Heineken with the green colour, big red star and white wordmark. A symbol for locals and tourists that this bar serves Heineken beer.
“Outdoor advertising is vital for the Heineken brand. This not only involves creating a recognisable brand, but also to carry out the desired image and brand personality. The new—perpendicular to the wall-mounted—light box Heineken is intended to be implemented globally. This was designed by Fabrique and VBAT. The light box is attached to a facade panel with the Heineken wordmark in relief. The design of the light box and the panel forms one integrated whole. The light box has, on both sides a fully translucent, smooth, internally illuminated plate, which is screen-printed in seven colours.”
Dutch Design Week returns in 2020, running from 17–25 October and it is definitely worth checking out whether you live in the Netherlands or not.
You can also read my recaps of the 2016, 2017 and 2018 editions here: