Opinion

Dutch Design Week

Eindhoven

5 November 2012

Traditionally, the showpiece of Dutch Design Week is the graduation show of the young designers from the famous Design Academy Eindhoven school. This year, the local designers faced competition from a collective from London's Royal College of Art.

Assembled by a collection of recently-graduated designers from the RCA, the RCA Collective displayed a series of graduation projects from London's most prominent design school. Across the city, Design Academy Eindhoven's graduation show Design that Matters took place. The juxtaposition of these two shows provided an opportunity for attendees at the Dutch Design Week to see the differing output of the two schools.

Below, the designer Sam Weller - an RCA graduate and one of the organisers of the RCA Collective - writes exclusively for Disegno about his experience in Eindhoven, and how the two famous design schools compare and contrast.


It was a sunny Friday afternoon, and I had just arrived in Eindhoven at the Sectie C area (pronounced "Sexy Say" in Dutch) in the east of the city. This postindustrial zone, although at first appearing abandoned, would soon teem with life over the course of Dutch Design Week.

Creative designers and makers inhabit this maze of converted factory space, ranging from established veterans such as Nacho Carbonell, through to promising homegrown design talent. The RCA Collective 2012 was a group of designers, makers, engineers and artists from the Royal College of Arts who had come together to showcase their work to a broader audience, away from London’s traditional haunts.

Some might view this decamp as a challenge to one of the college’s rival schools: the Design Academy Eindhoven, another design institution renowned for it’s creative prowess. After all, we were on their turf now. That said, our intentions were not provocative.

Our show was set in a raw warehouse environment, away from the central hustle and bustle. It was evident throughout that work from the RCA endeavors to explore new terrain in the product world. The show conveyed this with an expansive variety of pieces, ranging from traditional furniture through to more narrative-based installations.

Marjan van Aubel and Imme van der Haak, the two Dutch graduates from the 2012-graduation year at the RCA, exhibited two very different projects. Van Aubels’s Well Proven chairs, a collaboration with Jamie Shaw, attracted attention as abstractions of a Robin Day plastic-moulded chair, manufactured using an expanding mix of resin and wood shavings. Van der Haak’s Beyond the Body shroud, already exhibited as part of the Connecting the Dots event during London Design Festival, drew attention with its spinning faces of daughter, mother and grandmother.

Nic Wallenberg’s Cabbies' Tales added an element of "Britishness" to the exhibition. Driving a London Hackney Cab into the space, Nic invited visitors to receive their very own souvenir of London from its storytelling driver. Other projects included Mary Argyrou’s gently burning Puritan Light lamps and Anton Alvarez’s Thread Wrapping Machine.

Elsewhere, we soaked up the work of the other Dutch institutions, notably the graduation show from Design Academy Eindhoven. Set within the walls of the school’s building in the center of the city, the exhibition is the centerpiece of Dutch Design Week and I visited the exhibition with high expectations.

My Knitted Boyfriend by Noortje de Keijzer is the epitome of this, a pillow with a story, accompanied by a humorous video of a lonely girl who turns her pillows into a knitted partner. The video is funny, and although its knitted companion might not immediately appear to be of any practical use to lonely hearts out there, the execution and thought provoking compilation was refreshing in its clinical surroundings.

Following in the same story-telling vein is Playing Food by Tomm Velthuis, a contemporary take on the typical children's toy farm that, instead of the idyllic farm setting, is based on the factory farm setting of industrial meat production: a playful and confrontational twist to a classic toy.

“Being handicapped doesn’t have to mean staying handicapped. Progress can be made,” believes Mickael Boulay, another recent graduate who had produced a beautiful set of inclusively-designed cutlery for the disabled. The glossy-chrome sculptural forms of Transitions were supported by another video, which relays the iterative process by which the tools were developed.

Yet as professional as the DAE collection and display of work was, it felt as if it was missing a work-in-progress energy and progressive appetite, which Sectie C and other areas such as Schellens Fabriek seemed to possess. It was evident throughout the DAE show that there is a focus on the supporting narrative to projects.