Recently, a “Stereotypes of the Netherlands” map made its rounds on the Internet, describing how the Dutch conceptualize their small country’s terrain. Down south, in the middle of Brabant’s “Catholic Carnival Country,” a short distance from “Dumb People, Great Beer” (apologies, Belgium), is the technological oasis of “Philipstown,” so named for the diversified technology mega-corporation. If the city is known for innovation in technology and industrial design then Philips is the omnipresent forebear to this reputation; buildings, streets, a museum, and a football stadium all honor in name the little light bulb manufacturing company founded there in 1891.
The Philips Light Tower, once a lightbulb factory, in central Eindhoven
It’s no surprise then that Philipstown—sorry, Eindhoven—is home to Dutch Design Week, an annual celebration of lowland innovation that is, in different measures, a tradeshow, awards ceremony, debutant ball, art exhibition, market, showroom, conference, classroom, playground, and festival.
For all the clever and economical objects it presents, the 13th edition of DDW, running from October 18–26, is an exercise in surfeit. It comprises some 387 presentations and events across 86 venues. Giant tradeshows and exhibitions meet pop up stores and food trucks. It’s a feast for the eyes, the mind, and stomach. In every venue, park, and shipping container you’ll find covetable objects you’ll want to consume in every way: wear, live in, eat, watch, and generally use to make your life easier, safer, and more comfortable. There are objects and concepts—material and immaterial alike—to save the world, help the sick or needy, solve social and environmental problems, to communicate, explore, spread ideas. In short: an infectious techno- and design-optimism pulses through Eindhoven (most likely broadcast on hardware developed by Philips).
Here's a peek into a day at DDW:
The Strijp S district of the city has the highest concentration of DDW venues and events. With four large exhibition halls, the Klokgebouw is one of DDW's main venues. Inside, the "Social Design Garden" highlights innovations from the North Brabant region. It showcased multi-million dollar objects like a Philips digital MRI machine as well as more general projects like Smart Highways with glowing lines and electric priority lanes.
The Klokgebouw also featured wares to improve your look. I'll take one of everything, please.
This bicycle by Design Academy Eindhoven grad Anne Pabon appears in no fewer than three DDW venues. In collaboration with Collectie Veenhuizen Pabon developed a bike for prisoners to make that requires all the welding techniques they must demonstrate to earn a welding certificate.
This comfy-looking onesie is the BB.Suit, an air purifying suit that debuted at Beijing Design Week and is shown here as part of Eindhoven University of Technology's presentation.
Because you must have solar cars at your design fair, naturally.
Outside the Klokgebouw embellished Volvo (a DDW sponsor) taxis can take you to other DDW venues.
Ketelhuisplein across the street is a sort of festival square with info points, temporary venues, a skate park, activities for children, and lots of restuarants—permanent and pop-up alike.
This pop-up restaurant aims to stop food waste by cooking with food that would have been thrown out otherwise.
The cutest little sausage roll truck ever.
A soccer obstacle event for the kids on Ketelhuisplein.
A fun pause for kids and adults.
A market runs the length of Torenallee.
DDW Bikes for rent. Much like the classic art or not game, as you wander around Eindhoven you’ll wonder whether things are part of DDW or if everyone in town really does ride wooden bicycles in their neoprene skirts and ugly but presumably sustainably produced shoes. Are these shipping container restaurants always here? I just don’t know.
The gorgeous Kneeling | Five Years of We Make Carpets at MU. The trio behind We Make Carpets use everyday items like Heineken bottles, balloons, and cocktail umbrellas to create elaborate floor installations.
The Dutch Design Awards were held in Building TAB nearby in Strijp T.
Amsterdam agency Lemz was the top winner of the Dutch Design Awards for the avatar Sweetie, who resembles a ten-year-old girl from the Philippines and was developed to catch offenders of webcam child sex tourism. In 2013 Sweetie identified over 1,000 individuals from 71 countries, whose identities were then released with evidence to Interpol.
The In Vitro Meat Cookbook won in the categoty of Design Research. You know, for when you can't think of what to make with your lab-grown meat.
Viktor & Rolf won the Fashion category with their Fall 2013 collection. Among other winners were Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen's The Sochi Project in Communication and architecture firm Benthem and Crouwel's amazing Rotterdam Central Station in the Habitat sector.
Building TAB is also home to design studios, fabrication labs, and shops. Here is Kiki and Joost's temporary showroom in a fab lab.
Onward to the city center! Hosted in De Witte Dame, the Design Academy Eindhoven Graduation Show is perhaps the biggest highlight of DDW. There are a number of gratuitously novel, pretty, and cool objects here, but largely the show presents the final projects of students committed to identifying problems—both practical and conceptual—and finding solutions through design. Some address environmental or practical issues: What are alternative sustainable materials? How can we furnish a small space? Can housewares help people with allergies? Others are conceptual puzzles: Can we trigger memory through smell? Can we represent embodied sensory experiences? Still others are social: How can we denaturalize assumed positions, destigmatize illness or disability? Can we rethink what concepts like disability or gender even are?
This is not a torture device, but rather Govert Flint's Dynamic Chair, which uses gestures from the entire body to control a mouse. An impressive piece of designed technology, but after seeing it in use, it seems more novel than practical.
Nina Gautier's Urtica is one of a number of projects investigating underused raw materials. Gautier's in-depth research used stinging nettles to create fabrics and dyes, but also pointed out the material's potential as a medicine and fertilizer.
Laura Cornet's New Born Fame addresses the practice of parents sharing info about their babies in social media. This tongue-in-cheek project lets babies take back their social identities using everyday objects to shoot videos and take selfies, which are automatically uploaded to their social media.
Merel Witteman rests her case. These posters from her Aversive Aesthetics: Research on the Power of Disgust project were totally gross, but I couldn't not look at them.
Mandy Roos' Trichophilia fashion collection questions taboos and fetishizes hair where we normally hide it: armpits, chest, pubic areas. This project is also presented in the show DDW Sense Nonsense at the Van Abbemuseum.
Nils Chudy's Miito was developed to reduce the energy wasted from overfilled electric kettles, which typically have a minimum fill line of 500-700 ml. This induction base plus heating rod heats exact amounts of water directly in the vessels you need. Chudy was a winner of both the Keep an Eye Grant, the René Smeets Award and the National stage of the James Dyson Award.
Keep and Eye Grant and Gijs Bakker Award winner Gabriel Ann Maher's DE_SIGN is one of the more conceptual projects in the show. It comprises research, artefacts (like clothing), and performances that deconstruct gendered meanings through analysis of gender- and identity-related signs related.
And on to Kazerne, a restaurant-galley-workspace-lab:
Rugs in the Kazerne exhibition OPEN MIND. For all the conceptual, problem-solving work across DDW, there were still some simple Wow, that's beautiful moments. The image at the very top is Studio Drift's Fragile Future, light-emitting dandelions connected by bronze electrical circuits.
Daphna Laurens' Tool Cabinet.
In an old house in the Kazerne complex was the quiet but lovely exhibition Fragments of Ongoing Fiction by Fictional Collective, a group of 24 design practioners and Design Academy Eindhoven Social Design Master alumni. It's a perfect place to conclude a day at DDW. The works don't see design as producing set outcomes. Instead they present methods that showcase design as "a practice in constant movement."
The last thing I did there was exchange my identity at Silvia Neretti's Exchangeable Identity Shop. I sat down and chatted with Neretti and we decided I'd write a tutorial on "How to be small in the Netherlands," an uncommonly tall land—#1 tip: enlist help from strangers at the grocery store—and include a 5-foot-long paper tape measure so people could squat to experience my point-of-view. In exchange, I received an Exchangeable Identity Box filled with tips from "Positive Tamara" whose tips about letting go of negative experiences makes my vertically-challenged advice seem kind of lame.
But it turns out that our instructions both enlist the help of others, forging human connections to understand someone else's experience. And indeed, some of the best projects throughout DDW are those that aren't just sexy or clever, but ones that probe and communicate the human experience—subjective and collective—socially, enironmentally, and aesthetically. Maybe I don't need Positive Tamara's advice after all. DDW, your optimism is rubbing off on me.
(All images taken by the author)