One of the most rewarding things I’ve found about living in the Netherlands is being able to check out Dutch Design Week, aka “the largest annual design event in Northern Europe”, which happens each year around October in Eindhoven. Since moving here in 2016, I’ve visited it each year, discovering multiple exciting projects, my highlight most times being the Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE) student graduation show.
Of course, the 2020 edition of the Design Week didn’t take place physically because of the pandemic, but like most events this year, it moved online. This meant that the DAE show moved online, which was a shame. One of the best parts of the show was physically seeing these design projects in either the Academy building (De Witte Dame — a beautiful 1928 former Philips building) or the (slightly) newer 1929 Campina Melkfabriek.
After visiting the 2018 show, I made this statement, which I still think rings true and is key to why the DAE show hits a chord with me:
“…I have begun to notice a real divide between the student work and professional work on show in that I find the student work (not just the Design Academy but other Dutch, European and international schools*) far more interesting, inspiring and innovative than ‘established’ professional’s work. This is not to say that the professional’s work is not interesting, but students have a totally different creative mindset. A mindset to create concepts and realise current, relevant and topical projects, whether pleasant or not. Through design, they are able to make a statement, express their feelings and highlight to us today’s climate, be it social, environmental, political, cultural, economical, anthropological or whatever…”
If I’m being honest, the DAE graduation show online didn’t appeal to me; much like the majority of online exhibitions, they don’t feel the same, and the connection isn’t there so much when it experienced on a screen–this is probably something related to the way we consume information online and has nothing to do with the actual level of the work.
But, over the Christmas break, I picked up the graduation show project catalogue book (something I’ve also made an effort to do each year before), in itself a beautiful design piece but which shows each project in a somewhat physical and tangible format — the printed page. Through this catalogue book, I was connected to the show and therefore felt inspired to share some of my favourite projects and explore this idea of “a mindset to create concepts and realise projects that are current, relevant and topical whether pleasant or not.”
Below is a small selection of these projects, which I feel tackle some of today’s topics whether they are social, environmental, political, cultural, economical, anthropological or whatever…”
Please note, all images and texts are credited and linked to the respective owners, wherever possible.
Topic addressed: Climate change/Use of natural resources.
One of the most critical topics that designers (and everyone else really) can address today is climate change, which is, of course, a vast topic, and many things fall under this. One of which is reducing the usage of non-renewable materials by either recycling or re-using existing materials. This project by Emy Bensdorp aims to re-use an existing material, a material deemed to be a dangerous chemical: PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances).
“PFAS is a group of so-called ‘forever chemicals’ widely used since the 1950s. After years of extensive use and industrial activity, the chemicals are now found worldwide in soil*, water, wildlife and even people. PFAS consists of a very strong chemical bond (C-F), making them resistant to natural degradation while threatening human health and the environment.”
*90% of Dutch soil contain PFAS.
Her project, Packing up PFAS, aims to use these chemicals as a tool to create new building materials. By using a thermal treatment and heating PFAS contaminated soil to 900–12000 degrees, PFAS is destroyed. The resulting material is a ceramic material that has been fashioned into a brick but can also become a tile. Both are suitable for construction and are more sustainable than traditional bricks while also removing dangerous chemicals from the environment.
Something that has always been important but undoubtedly grown in importance since the pandemic is the desire and/or need for connection. Since we cannot see our family and friends like usual, we’ve all been finding new ways to connect; doing quizzes, dinner dates and playing games on Zoom and Facetime. In reality, though, these things don’t replace someone else’s tangible human interaction and reaction. However, we can have a form of interaction with non-human-but-acting-like-human devices like Alexa, Siri and Google. Can ‘talking’ and interacting with these ‘people’ give the same satisfaction as a real person?
This project by Bastiaan Stoker called Dennis the Desk Lamp explores the idea of interaction with devices. Dennis is a functional desk lamp with a human understanding and response to the real world:
“When Dennis senses you are near, he extends his body, opens his eye and wakes up. After some time, he gets sleepy by slowly closing his eyes and falling into a slumber. By making a loud noise or banging a fist on the table, you can keep Dennis awake. Eventually, he gets so tired that he can’t stay awake any longer. That leaves you no choice but to let him rest for a bit. And perhaps so should you.”
Is this our future? Are we to appease and satisfy our need for interaction and connection away from humans and towards sentient mechanical devices who can always be there for us?
For a long time now, it’s been said that people who commute and travel for work may get less sleep and exercise. This is suggested by a Swedish study, and it kind of makes sense. People who have to catch a train to their place of work probably have to wake up earlier to make sure they get the right train to get to work on time. Likewise, when coming home, which can be a drain mentally and physically, commuters are less likely to want to exercise after this.
Although, these people do have time to exercise. Twice a day, they are stood at a train station waiting. They are probably doing nothing, and if they are doing something, it’s most likely scrolling through social media (yes, everyone has been there). This project by Mathijs van Gageldonk, Exercise Through Navigation, explores whether we can use this time waiting for something more productive and energetic by creating a series of multifunctional gym furniture and workouts based on existing public spaces.
A bench for sitting and waiting can become a hybrid fitness bench for doing stretches or curls. If your train is delayed, you can get an extra set of reps in. Can the train station become a “hub for healthy habits”?
Over recent years people living in former “empires” have started to properly understand the impact of the colonial powers that came before us. In 2020 this was highlighted as many museums began to acknowledge that many of their collections were made up of stolen colonial artefacts; in the Netherlands, culture minister Ingrid van Engelshoven said, “Injustices that took place in the colonial past cannot be undone. But a contribution can be made to repairing that injustice by taking responsibility when dealing with colonial objects.”
The wider population are now realising that many things we take as “ours” are not ours but are originally belonging to another place, someone else and their culture, which was taken from them.
I thought this is when looking at Noa Jansma’s project Buycloud, where she explores the idea of ownership through clouds, albeit through payment, not stealing, as I wrote about above. Prefacing the project with a story of how “Native Americans were left confused when ‘explorers’ proposed to buy their land. Their vocabulary had no words for the concept of ownership over natural phenomena. How can one own the land, own the rivers? What about the clouds?”
From this insight and story, Noa Jansama is selling clouds online through a “mining station with a virtual speculation market, which follows the different theories that justify ownership and how it links to economic structures. The acquirement of the cloud becomes a steady and poetic investment. With emerging emissions, clouds will disappear within 150 years.
This interests me as it somewhat takes this concept of taking something that isn’t yours, but by paying for it, it can be, even if it’s something as intangible as the clouds in the sky or even the air we breathe. To me, it also addresses the growing capitalism commercialisation of everything; who’s to say in the future that we won’t have to pay for the air we breathe?
When I was younger, I can remember being asked what I wanted to do when I was older, and I think I said a postman (looking back now, that seems very dull, apologies to any post-workers), which seemed like a regular job. Other people would probably say a teacher, doctor, scientist etc. Nowadays, it’s (not perfectly but getting there) acceptable to say that you want to grow up to be a YouTube vlogger, a Twitch streamer, a social media influencer, a gamer, or other “jobs” have become more popular and acceptable in society today. Sometimes, you might not get the choice…
This project triggered me as the topic it addresses is something that does confuse me slightly on a moral level. Lotte Ottevanger’s project Kidfluencer Starterkit is “an installation inspired by the Dutch documentary ‘Mijn dochter de vlogger’ (My daughter the Vlogger). The documentary shows how parents record their young children’s lives in video blogs that sometimes become a substantial income source for the family. Ottevanger explores how parents seem to disregard their children’s privacy, putting their lives online without their permission; in a way taking advantage of them. I agree with her statement of “parents should think twice before they put a child’s entire history online because this can have all sorts of consequences for their future lives, even resulting in scamming and identity theft.”
I believe that young people nowadays can and should strive for “less than normal” or unconventional career paths, but they should be allowed to decide for themselves.