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GRAY at Dutch Design Week

THE ENTIRE CITY OF EINDHOVEN WAS BUZZING. It was Dutch Design Week for 9 days at the end of last month in the Netherlands, and the remarkable thing about it was that people young and old in the city—in the industry or not—were all seemingly making plans to attend. The Design Academy Eindhoven, for instance, which many argue is the best in Europe if not worldwide, told me they see an average of 4,000 to 5,000 daily attendees to its graduate show (Marcel Wanders was also rumored to have checked it out). This excitement around design was heartening to witness, since so often in our North American cities, design stays in its own lane. Exhibitions were scattered throughout the city, with curated spaces popping up in old factories—many of them erstwhile Phillips buildings. Phillips electronics company was founded in Eindhoven in 1891 and it remains headquartered there, helping drive Eindhoven’s current reputation as not only a design mecca, but a technology hub as well. I was invited by a combination of Dutch agencies, the Consulates General, Dutch Design Foundation, Netherlands Enterprise Agency, and Netherlands Export Combination, alongside a group of Canadians in the design industry.

Our first outing was to Sectie C (when the Dutch pronounce it, it sounds like “sexy c”), a complex that houses studios for more than 200 designers and artists to the east of downtown Eindhoven. Many of the designers working there attended the Design Academy, and post-graduation, they stayed on in the city to work. There is a strong foundation and infrastructure in the Netherlands for supporting designers just starting out—it’s refreshing.

All the Dutch designers seem to be tackling larger, philosophical questions with their work (“Safety Suit”), or experimenting with the implications of a question (“Looking at Soft Data”). Many of the exhibitions have playful titles (“Do (Not) Feed the Makers,” “The Best Thing For You And Me Would Be to Take A Very Long Holiday,”), and each designer is eager to share their reasons for exploring these themes through design. Often they’re experimenting with materials (transforming salt into furniture); making old materials work in new ways (soft textiles made hard), or exploring how to design more sustainably (turning recycled plastic waste into stunning new work). And almost no exhibit wasn’t a collaboration among designers on some level.

In the subsequent days we explored The Embassy of Food, an installation that questions everything about the future of the food industry; visited Piet Hein Eek, the venerated Dutch designer’s huge collective that includes everything from a restaurant to a furniture factory; stopped into the Design Academy Eindhoven graduate show curated by Formafantasma; participated in design studio tours, and more.


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