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More “designweeks” than weeks

Over a hundred design fairs and festivals are taking place around the world. We now have more “designweeks” than there are weeks in a year. The omnipresent branding activities that come along resemble an annoying commercial break while watching a good film. With all festivals growing in attendance, we must ask ourselves if that growth is a blessing or a curse?
design-weekThe ‘Queen of the Fairs’ lives in Milan; the Salone del Mobile is the most influential design fair. With the most contributing designers, producers, exhibitions and press, the fair functions in the design world as the ‘New Year.’ Product introductions are calibrated to make their launch here, not making the date will lead to an entire year delay in the development of a design.
‘Salone di Marketing’
The fair, with the endless peripheral program, has broadened her appeal immensely, opening a door to the massive marketing and branding industry. Designers readily complain about the overload of commercial activities. Jasper Morrison speaks of “Salone di Marketing,” as he does more and more tiring press and public performances each year. It mimics the annoying commercial break while watching a good film, and as we all know, when there are to many commercial breaks in a film you end up not watching it all.
According to brand-theory, acceptance in design circles is the best start for a broader acceptance over time; hence more brands want to be associated with design. The connection to creativity and design very often has to be brutally forced; three new colors on a 50-year-old percolator being presented as ‘new designs.’ Some brands organize designer parties and extra curricular activities to standout in the scene. Another cunning way to connect with the design world is to give stuff away; copious amounts of drinks, brochures, and eatables are now being handed out at design fairs. As a result I recently sat in an unsolicited whiskey tasting during Design Indaba, in Cape Town. Or in Milan there is always somewhere to get free Gin from a brand that wants to be perceived as the ‘designer-gin.’
Meanwhile the city is literally trampled under foot by the design branding. The marketing efforts are fuelling a temporary gentrification process: areas of the city, that in the past exposed upcoming designers, have built a reputation for being a fashionable locality, and now have transformed into branding zones with many standardised brand-presentations. Displays by telecom providers, car manufacturers, and the food industry are materializing in places where a year before was an innovative design label. Serious curation is needed here to defend a sense of quality. The fair organisers would be advantageous to seek an anti-gentrification policy, as being used in cities like Berlin.

Role of government
Commonly municipalities are firmly involved in the organization of designweeks to support the local creative economy. The economist Richard Florida first showed this economical importance with his publication “the rise of the creative class.” Recently his view that metropolitan regions with a ‘creative class’ exhibit a higher level of economic development is extended by Anthony Townsend’s book “Smart Cities.” Both publications have been very influential for the awareness of local authorities on creativity and are the underlying  philosophy for municipal support.
Small and large festivals 


Take Reykjavik as an example, for the last seven years they have composed a designweek, as a joint effort between the design community and the local government. The role of such a festival is primarily to empower the local creative scene, to strengthen the vitality of the city, and to learn from each other. By exhibiting their work amongst each other, this type of self-help-group propels the design field forward. During the most recent edition, the President of Iceland, invited the design journalists to emphasise his believe in a creative economy. How much more moral support can you ask for as a creative in Reykjavik?

In larger designweeks, such as the Dutch Design Week, one can see how design presentations migrate towards entertainment. The number of visitors has risen to 215,000, more than the entire population of the city of Eindhoven where it takes place. The general public has become the major stakeholder here. Designers are not presenting here to an industry or professional peers, but rather to a general audience. The success of the week can possibly be evaluated by changes in the designers’ mentality. Perhaps their focus is more and more towards the general public and less facing the professional industry, they do not need industrial manufacturers to see their work. The design-process has now become a dialogue with a general audience, especially in the realms of social design, experience design and conceptual design. For this generation of designers, is the connection to the manufacturing industry no longer the ultimate goal?
There is no doubt that the excessive amount of visitors cannot only be a blessing. Massive general attendance greatly narrows the room for professional and peer criticism that is so intrinsic and vital to the young and ever changing profession that design is. The dilution of design innovation by parasite brand and marketing strategies will have a grave influence on the events future. Festivals could easily drift off and become an interchangeable consumer fair, with a little spice of creativity. Let’s hope it won’t get that far.

Unsolved Questions about Design

Unsolved Questions about Design
With books and magazines on design more numerous and selling better than ever and a general growth in interest regarding design products and services, it seems like design is more popular than ever. The expectations from the public about what it can accomplish have certainly never been higher. Designers are increasingly perceived as problem solvers. 
From the outside the design world looks very healthy. But let’s take a look under the hood: is this profession really as vital and strong as it seems? Design is growing quantitatively, but is it growing qualitatively as well? Can designers really do what the public and the commissioners think they are capable of? 
The profession is changing rapidly as a result of its growth, but is struggling with some serious issues. We are under pressure, and believe that we lack the time to find fundamental answers to these uncomfortable questions. But the answers have to come from designers themselves ­– from researchers, practitioners, students and scientists. 
These are some of the industry’s biggest challenges – let’s see if 2015 will provide answers to them: 
1. Is design becoming more superficial?
For a long time design was embedded in mechanical engineering, printing, typography and material skills like ceramics, wood- or metalworking. We were able to weave and print by hand or understand simple industrial processes, such as injection moulding or extrusion. 
But the definition of design has expanded – and it has also become more conceptual. This, combined with the digitisation of our workflow and an increasing dependence on computers, means most designers have little grasp on true craftsmanship. As Jonathan Ive said in a recent interview: “So many designers don’t know how to make stuff. That’s tragic”.
Are we really able to design quality products if we don’t have a deep knowledge of the specific materials, crafts or production methods needed to create them? How can we be connected throughout the whole cycle of product development if we are only conceptually relevant?
Design is slowly transforming into an ever more mental, strategic and conceptual profession. “Design Thinkers” like Stale Melvaer even advocate this transformation saying: “Stop looking at yourself as a designer, and start thinking of yourself as a deliverer of ideas”.
On top of that, because of the internet, projects are often being distributed, judged and critiqued on their screen appearance alone. People increasingly buy products based on their two-dimensional qualities. As a result design has become strongly image-oriented.
Screen and photographic representation is what ultimately counts. Long texts and literature about projects are becoming rare. Sections, plans or sketches are rarely published. Models and physical 3D-prototypes play an ever-smaller role, because you can’t email or publish them.
So although it is a holistic profession that touches on all skills and senses it is being reduced to image making. The process, the meaning, the tactility, the materials, the spatial qualities and the sustainable impact, all have become less important. We satisfy an increasingly superficial demand for sexy imagery in high resolutions.
2. Has the design process become a group consensus process?
Older designers complain that they never sit with the director of a company anymore, but with people from the communications department. Our clients are no longer the CEOs but the marketing and communication managers.
Recently a designer of my acquaintance had a meeting about developing a chair with 35 people in the room. She was the only designer present. There is no way the designer can lead a discussion like that. Design is now an ongoing strategic conversation where various disciplines are involved.
In a recent interview Konstantin Grcic described the complex and very slow genesis of his All Star chair. “Four years is a long time to develop a chair”, he said. The design brief nowadays is the result of many meetings and many discussions and is often subject to changes, he explained. The design process has become a group consensus process. The same is true in architecture. There is lots of talking and, although there is a broader acknowledgment of design, its position hasn’t become significantly stronger. In fact, the freedom for a designer to explore, innovate and research has been reduced. 
3. Does design lack maturity? 
The vast majority of designers are under 40. Afterwards they tend go into education, design management, or become entrepreneurs in a related field. It is very rare that an active designer of over 50 speaks at a convention or gets major press. The very few that do must be extremely successful, because everyone else has long left the profession by that age.
The press wants young and upcoming talent – they present an easy story. The industry wants them as well, because they bring free publicity and embody the new. Consumers want designers to be optimistic, fresh and inspirational. Young people fit that image better.
Design is not an easy way to make money. If you are dependent on billed hours or royalties it will take a lot of time before you can match the average income of most professions. We all know that young creatives often live in poor circumstances. Very few designers practice this profession until they retire because it costs more energy than it reasonably returns in money.
The profession as a whole therefore lacks maturity. There is hardly any learning flow through the generations. We are continuously re-inventing design, with an enthusiastic but inexperienced group of young professionals. 
4. Is design a sexist profession?
For many decades there has been gender equality in design schools. Design was one of the few professions that seemed to appeal as much to women as to men.
But today fewer than 10 per cent of top designers are female. Why can’t more of the women who study design reach the top? Perhaps for some of the same reasons that cause women to be underrepresented on the boards of big corporations.
Design could easily be gender neutral – enough women want to study its disciplines – but shamefully, we cannot score that point. A recent study of design publications done by Gabriel Maher on the gender issue highlighted the role of the press. Depending on the gender they use a different jargon, show the designers in different poses and write about different qualities. To cut it short: it is a sexist profession. 

Now what do we do about it?

the Copy Paste Mantra.

Globalization, and an open-source mentality have changed our thinking almost overnight about what constitutes a copy versus an original. Copying not only has legal and cultural repercussions; it bears on moral and psychological issues as well. 


Fear of Being Copied

Every art or design student has likely had some fear of being copied, or that what he creates is actually a copy of somebody else’s work. No designer likes to hear, “your work is exactly what designer x did in the mid nineties (or something similar).” The fear that an idea, form, or material will be stolen by another has the same foundation as the fear that one is “stealing“ (from?) oneself. This fear is completely understandable: the uniqueness of a creation is being threatened by the possibility that someone will copy it. And uniqueness–or call it originality–is at the heart of western European creativity. 


The tension that immediately arises when speaking about copying proves its relevance and explosive potential – not only in the field of design. Aside from the formal and juristic consequences, in design there is a “moral of authenticity” that is deeply rooted in western culture. What would happen if we could let go of this ‘authenticity’?

Copying and Inspiration

copy-watchAnother issue at stake is the similarity between copying and inspiration. Every designer will study examples of designers that inspire him. Designing is in part copying, leaning, re-using; placing an old idea in a new context. It’s foolish to reinvent the wheel, so we cut and paste from all kinds of  sources of inspiration. And since the rise of the internet those sources are even more accessible: with a couple of clicks we can see everything, everywhere. Instantly.  

But the line between inspiration and copying is a thin one. Anyone who breaches that line will be singled out not only by colleagues, but also, inevitably, by lawyers. The western world has installed a huge copyright system in which the copying of intellectual property equals theft. That whole system is relatively young–only about a hundred years old, and some say copyright protections holds us back from innovation and  impedes creativity. It’s common knowledge that in the music industry, the Internet has had a huge impact on the business models of performing artists. Will the same be true for the design sector? 

Different Attitudes of Asia and Europe
The question of where inspiration ends and copying begins can be answered from personal, cultural, and moral standpoints, but also from commercial and legal points of view. Cultural differences certainly have an effect on where one stands in this debate. It has always been said, for example, that Asia and Europe have very different attitude towards copying; that originality and authenticity have different meanings in different cultures. In Japan and China, where a totally different ethical code governs authorship, you are considered a ‘master’ if you are able to copy good craftsmanship. Here in the West however, originality is at the heart of design culture.

Legal Questions

Legal questions surround copyright culture. How is copyright built? What are the premises?  How do we define a copy from moral, legal, and cultural points of view? Should copying be deplored or could it be also seen as a process towards perfection or the development of skills? Could it be regarded as the predictable consequence of an ever-present marketing, branding and personality cult? 

In the likelihood of a future society dominated by copy culture, what changes will we see? Will patents and copyrights lose their raison d’étre, becoming artifacts of mass industrialization? Will they be replaced by open source concepts, appropriation and personalization? What will be the designer’s role in a shared and thus reciprocal relationship with a new, potentially multi-faceted breed of user, client, producer, reseller and co-developer? 

The discussion needs to be placed into a wider cultural context, refining and reviewing our views on copying, imitation and inspiration, suggesting entirely different sets of moral values and ultimately proposing updated global economic and socio-cultural cooperation models.

Watch the project on Dezeen: click here

designing design education.

Design Education is a growing sector. In Western Europe the amount of Master studies in design is on the increase. In Eastern Europe, India and China the amount of Bachelor studies is growing and the amount of students per school or studio are growing as well. Besides the numerical growth, the Design-field is widening as well: New fields of design emerge on an ongoing basis. One can think of social design, interaction design, service design and design thinking. These are all sectors of the design field for where studies are being developed or will be developed. More and more different schools have a design related study in their curriculum, design is being taught in both technical-, managerial- and artistic schools and Universities at all of levels. Lucas Verweij initiated a roundup in corporation with DMY and the Dutch Embassy
DMY -the Berlin design festival- has strong bonds with educational bodies. Already 25 schools have subscribed to expose student’s work for the 2012 festival. Schools, faculty and students will come from Poland, Switzerland, France, Germany, Holland, Argentina and USA. The experimental character of the festival makes it popular with designers shortly before and after their graduation. The timing is good: DMY is held just before the semester ends in the low of the educational season. Former Airport Tempelhof is an Inspiring and typical Berlin location.
In recent years at DMY there has been a start of an educational round up in the festival. At this meeting there was a clear longing for further development of design educational knowledge. Therefore we want we want to broaden this year to a series of expert meetings and case studies. DMY and the Dutch Embassy will host the event. On behalf of the hosts, Lucas Verweij has taken the imitative to do so. Verweij has taught design, architecture and art in different schools in Germany and The Netherlands. He was dean of a Master study in Architecture & Urban design and a guest Professor for product design.
mapls1-6470About the format: open space expert meetings.
In design education there are many experts and most of the challenges we will discuss are new for all of us. To establish an international network, we believe it is best to treat all participants equally and have open expert-meetings. We want everybody to have the opportunity to share ideas and experiences. A dedicated moderator, who has experience in the topic, will host an issue. We do not want it to be a symposium with ‘people who speak’ versus ‘people who listen’ but an free and open exchange of knowledge and experiences.
There are two rounds of four expert meetings where participants can join at one of the topics. There is an open space for a topic that might come up. If you want to suggest a topic, let me know. Seven issues will be set in an open space setting. Every table issue will have a host. These are bottom-up meetings meant to share knowledge and establish a network of schools. Every meeting lasts 1 hour. All participants can choose two topics to attend.


Expert meeting round One
1. Open space: free for your idea or topic
2. New professional challenges, ‘How do I embed social & open design in the curriculum?’
Host: Ronen Kadushin, Guest professor University of Art and Design Halle, teaching Open Design.
4. How can the relation of design with society at large be taught or embedded in the curriculum?
5. Case study: Export design education to China. Prof. Egon Chemaitis, Uni der Künste, Berlin
Expert meeting round Two:
5. How can we prepare designers for a future of changing economic models. Host: Sophie Lovell,  freelance writer, editor and consultant in design.
6. What is the best structure for a design school to develop and embed a researching atmosphere?
7. What is the position of design in an art school?  What are the advantages and challenges of having design courses or design departments in an art school (in stead of an independent design school or at a technical school). Host: Prof. Carola Zwick, Kunsthochschule Weissensee. Berlin
8. What can be a fruitful relation between other disciplines (architecture, fashion, art) and design in education? Host: Lucas Verweij, former Dean Master study in Architecture and a guest Professor for product design.

Design and Innovation

Design is strangled by innovation. Some people (including my wife) say “If there is no innovation to a design, it isn’t design, its craft or folk art. Innovation is thereby not a progressive act for a designer; it is in the nature of design. Since we are neither folk-artists nor craftsmen, we are driven to innovate,”

I do not agree, and argue with my wife about it frequently. I think designers are much too focused on the innovative. Innovation has been the collective obsession of the design world throughout the last century. I think we should let go of this obsession in order to make more objects of quality. Because quality does not necessarily equal innovation.

I think the role of designers in the innovative process is over-estimated. If we look closely at a lot of innovative design, the innovation is not the work of the designer.

Innovation can emerge at different stages of the design process. For example it can be part of the assignment. If that is the case the designer is often held responsible for the innovation, whereas actually the commissioner has called for it and thereby caused it to be a design factor. This was the case with both Nespresso and the Ipad. It was primarily the brief, released by the commissioner, that led to these extraordinary and innovative products.

Who did the innovativion: the designer or the commissioner.

Closely linked is the type of innovation that arises from the function of a product. The product is then able to do something that could not be done before. Skype is one example. We can not say it is brilliantly designed, but its functionality is brilliant. The same is true for car navigators or twitter. Any designer would have made these products into an innovative product because the functionality called for it, and hence the design brief must have as well. We tend to honor the designers in all these examples, whereas I believe the commissioners have done their part to make these designs innovative.

Production method and techniques


New technology enhances design innovation

When a new technique or production-method comes along a whole field opens up, look at lighting design. Because of the prohibition of the light bulb we have been converting to LED lighting, which can lead to completely different shapes and typologies. Due to this conversion, there has been one innovation after another. Dieter Rams showed the new producing techniques among the Braun products. Eames demonstrated what we could do with laminating. Le Corbusier and Tadao Ando showcased different ways of using concrete. Using the new possibilities in a creative and useful way, this is the core of innovative design work.

I believe innovation is the collective obsession of the design world: designers focus too much on it. Imagine what would happen if-only for one year-the whole design world stopped trying to innovate? What if we paused the innovation? A lot of good products would be made in that year, because if we didn’t put energy into trying to make the new. We might put energy into trying to make the good. Quality does not necessarily require innovation.

In architecture the turn-around is already visible. The renovation and restoration departments of universities grow bigger everyday. There is more work in these fields than in new developments. It requires a different attitude towards designing (because the product already exists). The stars of innovative architecture are not the stars of restorational architecture. More ‘new stars’ are emerging outside the innovative field. In product design there is not yet truly an equivalent yet, but the underlying development is the same.

Less innovative design can rock!

Designing Designeducation at Miami/Basel

Leading design teachers Ron Arad and Daniel Charny, who have taught at the Royal College of Art in London and Jurgen Bey, from the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam, winner of the BE OPEN Prize, came together today to discuss their approaches to education. The talk was moderated by former Professor of design and architecture schools in Berlin and Rotterdam, Lucas Verweij and hosted by BE OPEN as part of their collaboration with Design Miami/ Basel.

Verweij asked the panel to describe what they consider to be the perfect conditions for teaching. All agreed that the ‘studio culture’, ie the learning environment, is a key factor in the development of a student. Always controversial, Ron Arad said that his greatest task at the RCA was ‘unteaching’: “I said that I would be able to make perfectly employable people completely unemployable within two years,” he boasted. But his point was a serious one and picked up by the other candidates who agreed that the key is to empower students to follow their impulses and not to restrict creativity through prescriptive briefs: essentially, to BE OPEN to all the students’ ideas and to creative possibilities.
Daniel Charny said that it is essential to show design students that there are a number of ways of reaching their goals, raising their ambitions so that they keep pushing their ideas forward. Arad agreed and praised the BE OPEN Prize for supporting this way of thinking:”Rather than giving a lump of money to a student or institution, this prize will expose students to the ideas of inspirational experts, giving them the courage to be even more experimental.” Jurgen Bey added that whilst he was delighted that his school, the Sandberg Institute, had won the prize, he had also found it very interesting to see the many different approaches to education manifested in the schools’ presentations in the BE OPEN Installation.
be-open-day-2-005BE OPEN Inside the Academy in Basel has been conceived to draw attention to the importance of education today in nurturing the designers who will shape our world tomorrow. The Talk was organized to accompany BE OPEN Installation and Prize that invited a selection of top European design schools to present innovative design projects by outstanding students currently or recently enrolled. The universities exhibiting at the BE OPEN booth at the Fair are: Le Cambre, Belgium; Ecole cantonale d’art de Lausanne (ECAL), Switzerland; Hochschule Basel, Switzerland; Konstfack, Stockholm, Sweden; Sandberg Institute Amsterdam, The Netherlands and The Glasgow School of Art, UK.
A jury of international design luminaries reviewed the projects of the BE OPEN Inside the Academy Installation. The jurors selected Sandberg Institute to receive the Prize, which grants the winning institution the opportunity to select and host a series of distinguished guest lecturers to further its curriculum development.

Hella on Rotterdam

Hella Jongerius interviewed by her husband about their previous hometown Rotterdam 

Hella Jongerius worked for sixteen years in Rotterdam, at two places in the old west part of town and two places in the district ‘Cool’. We are now speaking in her studio, Jongeriuslab, on Kastanienallee in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district, where she has worked for half a year, after moving to Berlin with her family a year before that. 

Since I am her husband and this is our first interview, the conversation feels strange. I had always thought it would be impossible for me to interview her, but soon I find this is not at all true.

How do you look back on Rotterdam and the climate of the city? 

Rotterdam has a certain “barren land” where weeds and rare flowers can grow well. There is still plenty of room there; lots of physical but also mental space that has always attracted creative people. I was able to work within that lovely creative shelter, developing my own stories and samples without distraction. The availability of workspace was and still is crucial for every designer, and Rotterdam still makes good on these opportunities. I have rented good places in the past: a former laboratory, a former butcher shop, and a monumental mansion. Each had some problems to play around with, but that character fits well with my own.

How has the city influenced your work?
Rotterdam is more of a pioneer town: there is simply less infrastructure for culture and the mentality is harder. Germans would say the city is less “etabliert”-less established. But this also applies to Berlin anyway. Rotterdam is not a comfortable city where everything comes to you. You have to get yourself out there and build a network. You don’t simply relate to the city. It’s a city where the street culture is not yours-a city of men and women with balls. This mentality and work ethic have given me ambition like oxygen. An important theme in my work is the celebration of imperfection, which is also recognizable in the city of Rotterdam. 

Then I found out that we both consider 2001 as a highlight of our Rotterdam years. In 2001 the city was the European Culture Capital. 2001 marked the midde of our Rotterdam stay. 
For the first time the city showed itself to have cultural ambition. Of course we had already experienced its more macho ambition of being a “big port city,” but this was something different. They wanted a cultural consciousness, and were willing to invest in it deeply. There was a buzz around the city, it was being called a ‘social and cultural laboratory’. New places, initiatives, and organizations popped up, and you recognize more creative people in the streets. That was the first time I felt like Rotterdam was really on the radar. Designers and artists were attracted to the city. You can still see the wave of them that came then, even long after 2001. 

We differ in opinion about the end of 2001. I use the metaphor of a collapsed soufflé, because the climate would have collapsed, specially after 4 years of populism- and conservative politics,” but Hella disagrees. 
No, the benefits of such newfound cultural capital were the people who decided to come to Rotterdam. That is the residue that is still there after ten years, proving that the venture was successful. It is logical that the cultural buildings are being torn down and project organizations are shut down. It was certainly ‘colder’ during the populist and conservative admistration, but the battery was charged. This is always the wave dynamic of an imperfect city. The only thing really harmful to the creative sector is that the city has lost its generosity. 

It’s a bit strange to ask my own wife this question, but why did you end up leaving?
I wanted to have the feeling of being a beginner again, a pioneer, reinventing myself and my work. We also wanted to work abroad to gain a larger perspective, and it seemed to be the right moment. Since leaving, I find I’ve become milder in my thoughts about the city and its creative politics. They are not quite consistent and generous, but they do come from a mentality that fits with that of the city. Rotterdam is just a stubborn place: that is both its strength as well as its weakness. 

In Dutch: 
We spreken elkaar in haar Atelier aan de Kastanienallee in Prenzlauerberg, Berlijn. Sinds een half jaar werkt ze hier met de studio, Jongeriuslab. Samen met het gezin was ze al een jaar eerder verhuisd. Hella Jongerius werkte 16 jaar in Rotterdam, op twee plekken in het Oude Westen en twee plekken in de wijk Cool. Het gesprek komt vreemd op gang omdat ik haar man ben, en dit ons eerste interview is. Ik heb altijd gedacht dat ik haar daarom niet zou kunnen interviewen maar al snel merk ik dat dat niet waar is.

Hoe kijk je terug op je Rotterdam en het klimaat in de stad?
Rotterdam heeft op een bepaalde manier ‘schrale grond’, waar onkruid en zeldzame bloemen goed kunnen groeien. Er is nog altijd veel ruimte, veel fysieke maar ook mentale ruimte, dat trekt creatieven altijd aan. Ik heb in die luwte heerlijk kunnen werken. Ik kon zonder voorbeelden en zonder afleiding een eigen verhaal ontwikkelen. De verkrijgbaarheid van werkruimte was en is nog altijd cruciaal voor elke ontwerper. Rotterdam staat er nog altijd goed op met haar mogelijkheden. Ik heb goeie plekken kunnen huren, een oud laboratorium, een oude slagerij en een monumentaal herenhuis. Die hadden allemaal een bepaalde jeux, een karakter dat goed paste bij mijn handschrift.
Hoe heeft de stad je werk beïnvloed?
Rotterdam is meer een pioniersstad, er is nou eenmaal minder infrastructuur voor de cultuur, en de mentaliteit is norser en harder. Duitsers zouden zeggen de stad is minder ‘etabliert’; ‘minder gevestigd’. Dat geldt voor Berlijn ook trouwens. Rotterdam is geen comfortabele stad, waar het allemaal wel op je af komt. Je moet er zelf op uit, zelf een netwerk opbouwen, je zelf verhouden tot de niet eenvoudige stad. Een stad waar de straatcultuur niet de jouwe is, een mannen stad en een stad voor vrouwen met ballen. Deze mentaliteit en de arbeidsethos die in de stad hangt hebben mij mijn ambitie van zuurstof voorzien. Een belangrijk thema in mijn werk is het vieren van de imperfectie, dat is ook herkenbaar in de stad Rotterdam.

Ik kom er achter dat wij 2001, het culturele hoofdstadjaar, beide als een hoogtepunt van Rotterdam beschouwen. Het was ook ongeveer het midden van onze Rotterdamse jaren.
‘Voor het eerst toonde de stad een culturele ambitie. De meer macho-ambitie van de grote haven kende we natuurlijk, maar dit was een andere ambitie. Men wilde er cultureel toe doen en was bereid daar diep in te investeren. Er ontstond een buzz rondom de stad. Een sociaal- en cultureel laboratorium werd het genoemd. Nieuwe plekken, initiatieven en organisaties kwamen als paddenstoelen uit de grond, opeens herkende je creatieve mensen op straat. Voor mijn gevoel stond Rotterdam voor het eerst echt op de radar. Dat heeft ontwerpers en kunstenaars aangetrokken om naar de stad te komen. Je kan dat duidelijk zien: er is een hele golf van na 2001.’

Over de afloop van 2001 verschillen we van mening. Ik gebruik de metafoor van een ingezakte soufflé, dat het klimaat ingestort zou zijn met als dieptepunt de ‘Leefbare Jaren’ Maar Hella is het daar niet mee eens.
Nee, de structurele winst van Culturele hoofdstad zijn de mensen die besloten naar Rotterdam te komen. Dat is het residu, dat er nog altijd is en daarmee is het geslaagd. Het is logisch dat de Calypso’s daarna gesloopt worden en projectorganisaties opdoeken. Het was zeker killer tijdens Leefbaar en Fortuyn, maar de batterij was opgeladen. Het is de golvende dynamiek van een imperfecte stad. Het enige wat echt schadelijk is voor de creatieve sector is dat de stad zijn genereusiteit verloren is.

Het is vreemd te vragen aan mijn vrouw maar: Waarom ben je vertrokken?
Ik hou ervan een beginner te zijn, te pionieren, mezelf en mijn werk opnieuw uit te vinden. Wij wilden ook graag vanuit het buitenland werken, een groter perspectief, en dit was het moment. Ik merk dat ik milder ben geworden over de stad en haar creatieve politiek. Het is allemaal niet genereus maar wel consequent en ook vanuit een mentaliteit die strookt met de stad. Het is nou eenmaal een weerbarstige stad, dat is haar kracht en haar zwakte. Je zwakte is trouwens altijd je kracht, of was dat een Amsterdamse gedachte?

What is your profession

This morning I had to fill out a form, asking the simple question ‘Beruf Vater?’ (‘Father’s profession?’). 7 centimeters of space were provided for the answer. I apologize for not being able to answer with just one word.  I will need about 321. Closest would be ‘Designer’. 

I studied product Design for public space, and am therefore officially qualified as a Designer for public space. I write and publish about design and therefore often call myself a journalist. Most of my journalism is oral: it comes in the context of moderating or interviewing on stage. That makes me a moderator and public speaker. 

I teach in various design schools in Europe (School of Form, Poznan, Design Academy, Inside KABK- The Hague). I have been guest professor in both Berlin design schools 

Between 2002 and 2006 I was dean of an architecture school (RAVB). I taught architecture students even when I was studying design. So that makes me an teacher. 

I founded an office that worked in the fields of design and architecture. Where my companion (Ton Matton) did most of the city planning, I was more involved in the art world. I hardly made any autonomous artworks, but I was very often called artist. I have been making maps for a long time (mostly world maps). I know quite a bit about world projections, so I must be a cartographer. 

In my time at the design institute Premsela (1998-2002) I was a program manager. When I later founded a design platform (dpfr) and a design Master course we called ourselves initiators.

I coach people in public speaking and moderating, so I am a coach as well.

Recently I started getting more involved in innovation and Web 2.0. As if it were my fate, this led to another professional description. Recently I was introduced as a web 2-specialist.

In recent times it has become much more normal to have more than one profession. In Twitter biographies people often call themselves: serial entrepreneur, designer, social media expert and DJ.

Bookreview: The new tradition: continuity and renewal in Dutch architecture

The new tradition is an overview of what professionals and the public alike term ‘traditionalism’; a century of traditionalist architecture and urban design, with an emphasis on the last fifteen years. The common definition of traditionalism – ‘the conscious reversion to traditions in building as regards form, structure and function’ – offers a succinct description of what this book is about. I can’t summarise its subject any better than with this definition. But the word ‘traditionalism’ is noticeable by its absence. The avoidance of the ‘T-word’ gives the impression that the book deals with a taboo.

Circumventing the notion of traditionalism is not only a linguistic issue. It is a missed opportunity to define traditionalism precisely and to point out the difference with regionalism and critical regionalism. A comparison could have been made with classicism and with ‘new urbanism’.

A fundamental (theoretical) framework is sorely needed to support, deepen and develop traditionalism. That is, of course, the motive for this book, but avoiding the right title make you think that traditionalism as such is somehow tainted, that nobody wants to be associated with it. That, to me, is incorrect. It is high time to name traditionalism in plain language and embrace it if desired. After all, the past teaches us that reappropriating a name (faggots, rednecks, punks) is a good strategy for emancipation.

And traditionalism itself teaches us not to reinvent the wheel all the time but, instead, to benefit from the lessons of history. That is to say that the new tradition is positively ambitious in theoretical terms. The text on the back flap reads: ‘If one puts bourgeois housing at the centre of architectural history, it becomes clear that the radical experiment of modernism was no more than an incident’. Right on target!

The change of perspective in this book transforms the dominant line of thought into a footnote. But because the T-word isn’t used explicitly, this argument isn’t convincingly substantiated.

The 270-page coffee table book (somewhat oversized and certainly not portable) is written by Hans Ibelings and Vincent van Rossem.

The book includes photographs of completed projects and drawings of neighbourhoods and villages, most of them designed by Mulleners + Mulleners, Scala, Molenaar & Van Winden, KOW, Soeters van Eldonk, Krier Kohl, Six Architects and LSW Architecten. Facade drawings, floor plans and sections are omitted entirely. The book seems aimed at a wide audience and not solely for professionals. And that aim has been achieved, because the book is accessible. Ibelings in particular clearly describes what this architecture is about.

The new tradition is expressly a compilation of work by two authors, with an abrupt change from one to the other on page 185. In part one Ibelings describes contemporary architecture practice as he zooms further and further out from the daily housing conditions.

That results in a clear division into chapters: home, neighbourhood, village, city, landscape. It is, in effect, a substantial yet sympathetic essay (c. 6000 words and lavishly illustrated) in which Ibelings argues for a greater understanding of history in the development of new projects.
The political and social tension surrounding the subject becomes clearer when he hints at the book’s aim. On page 89, for example, he writes: ‘Architects […] usually show more interest in the city than in the village.

They are more fascinated by the feverish dynamics of a steadily growing metropolis than by the peaceful continuity of rural settlements.’ And on page 39 we read: ‘In the Netherlands the trend is only to often to reinvent the wheel […] and above all not to draw any lessons from the past’.

The charge gradually becomes explicit: because of modernism, architects have developed an over-fixation on innovation and renewal in the area of typologies and materials. Traditionalists oppose this, advocate a view of profession based more on craft, and search for ‘continuity in architecture’ (hence the book’s title).

Occasionally it becomes obvious what the book is really trying to do, namely to offer a counterweight to the prevailing view of architecture. Oops, is there a customary view of architecture? Most architects don’t think so, but traditionalists think there is. They are of the opinion that modernism is too dominant in both architectural education and practice.

They think there is scant regard for the discipline as a professional craft and skill. They think the architectural discourse is too hermetic and too inaccessible, and is based on too many assumptions. Now and then – not in this book – a comparison is made with politics before Pim Fortuyn. The New Urbanists add that people and human behaviour are not taken as the measure of things in urban design as often as they should be.

This group is stronger abroad than in the Netherlands and has viewed sustainability as of paramount importance for a long time. ‘Giving people many choices for living an urban lifestyle in sustainable, convenient and enjoyable places, while providing the solutions to peak oil, global warming, and climate change.’ But although there is enough ammunition, the author decides not to go on the offensive in this book.

After page 185 Vincent van Rossem takes over with an exhaustive historical essay (‘Timeless’) that spans 25 pages. Van Rossem has an unmistakably academic style of writing and needs no fewer than 49 footnotes, whereas Ibelings needs none. While even non-professionals will understand part one of The new tradition, part two makes for heavy reading, even for insiders.

The large discrepancy in approach between the two authors does not benefit the book. They work alongside each other but not together. A discussion on this theme has not, it would seem, been conducted between the authors. The result is therefore neither a comprehensive argument, nor account, nor study of historical facts, nor picture book. In that sense the publication is tentative, encompassing as it does a little bit of all of those character traits.

True to its title, The new tradition deals exclusively with projects in the Netherlands. The historiography, however, introduces an international perspective. A correct decision, I think. No matter how nice it is to see foreign examples, this book is about the Dutch situation. The book describes how that development, past and present, is inextricably linked to developments elsewhere. Van Rossem in particular refers frequently to the English and German history of houses and residential districts.

Another interesting thing is that the book doesn’t confine itself to buildings. A substantial part concerns ‘traditionalist urbanism’ – which is generally more appreciated than the architecture. Ibelings’s chapters on ‘Neighbourhood’, ‘Village’, ‘City’ and ‘Landscape’ go beyond the individual building and Van Rossem, too, writes extensively about the Garden City, Plan Zuid and the historical city.

Moreover, a lot of attention is devoted to landscape and public space. This is useful because intelligent and careful solutions are often devised at the level of exterior space. Traditionalism means no Vinex front gardens but doors that open directly onto the street, no cars parked lengthways along the street but beneath it, behind it or beside it on a separate site.

The street and the square – the collective domain – are viewed in a much more positive light than the style of architecture. In Poundbury, better known as ‘the Prince Charles village’, the architects fought the fire department in favour of the construction of dead-end streets and against roundabouts and through roads. Also included are alleyways, small shortcuts for pedestrians and cyclists only. You won’t find them in contemporary residential districts.

This book would have been stronger if Ibelings and Van Rossem had sided more explicitly with traditionalism and, from there, counterattacked the numerous accusations made against it. After all, another lesson we learn from history is: attack is the best form of defence.

Info: Hans Ibelings, Vincent van Rossem, De nieuwe traditie / The new tradition. Continuity and renewal in Dutch architecture, SUN Amsterdam 2009, NL/EN, p.288, ISBN 9789085066927, €34.50