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Since early this year, Parktheater and Eindhovens Dagblad have organised a number of public debates on topics directly related to the city of Eindhoven and its inhabitants. The first round, for instance, focused on how to spend the funds allocated to the city for its position as an innovation mainport. This edition was all about finding ways to make design more visible across the city.

A panel had been invited to kick-start the debate, consisting of Joost van Bleiswijk (a Design Academy Eindhoven alumnus, designer and founder at Joost & Kiki), Tanja Mlaker (Director of Stichting Cultuur Eindhoven), Martijn Paulen (Director of the Dutch Design Foundation), Thomas Paulen (Director of Van Berlo design agency), and Bas Raijmakers (reader in Strategic Creativity at Design Academy Eindhoven). The moderators, newspaper editors Rob Schoonen and Chris Paulussen, were out to trigger responses from them on statements such as ‘design should be coaxed out of its cubbyhole’, but during the initial stages of the talk it became clear that the topic of debate was in need of a clear definition: to some, design continues to mean product design, whereas to people working within the domain, the scope of the profession is much wider and includes system and social innovation, with collaboration as a key characteristic. As an example of the latter, Bas Raijmakers highlighted an extensive project done by design researchers from his Readership, Alissa van Asseldonk and Renee Scheepers (both DAE alumni) with a group of students, the water board and residents in the Geestenberg residential area. 

Ambition: taking things to the next level
But while design has come to mean many things to many people, a better understanding of what design entails is key to formulating a clearly defined and far-reaching ambition for the city, if it is to boost its image as design capital. Joost van Bleiswijk made a plea for being unabashedly ambitious, and making firm choices both in terms of what the city is in favour of and what it is against. Tanja Mlaker, a relative newcomer to the city, was struck by the great number of design-related initiatives and activities here and the high-energy dynamics. But she also noticed that there was no overall concept for the city as a whole to direct its goals in terms of design. It is chaos, to which Thomas Paulen later replied that in his view, the best things often come from chaos. 

Thomas Paulen also indicated that away from the city centre Eindhoven harbours a number of exciting hubs for design, like the STRP areas S, T and R. The centre, by contrast, has a much more generic vibe; visitors can come and spend a weekend in the centre and never find out about the many design-related initiatives the city has to offer. Martijn Paulen noticed that there is no lack of élan in the city; designers are staying on after they graduate from DAE and setting up shop here instead of in Amsterdam or elsewhere in the Randstad area. The Dutch Design Week is a phenomenon that attracts people from all over Europe. But to keep it that way, throughout the year and with an eye to the future, we must find a way to take all the good things that have been set up over the past ten, fifteen years to the next level.

A space to dream
He recollected visiting the UFO-shaped Evoluon building as a boy. He would marvel at the inventions and innovations on display there and imagine a future for himself as someone who was going to contribute to the amazing world  of technological advances. Paulen argued that the city is in need of a new place to reflect this spirit of invention and spark this type of dream in young people living here today. Not a museum, but something like a laboratory, a living and working place to showcase what design can do, today and tomorrow. Bas Raijmakers was also in favour of a lab: a place, an activity, and a phenomenon with multiple close ties to the goings-on in this town. It would be very helpful to have a physical space where people can learn about all the work that is done elsewhere in the city, in offices, in public space, in people’s homes, in care institutes and in schools. He believes people who live and/or work in Eindhoven would be very interested in finding out how they could become part of all of these developments.

Roundabout Design & Office of Creative Affairs
Local entrepreneur and brand promotor Daan Melis (formerly of SOEPS and Eindhoven 365) was invited after the break to share his vision for a design capital that showcases its highlights. Called roundabout design, his proposal includes a series of curated design walks, which, when shown together on a map, resemble the well-known maps of the London underground. The idea is to take visitors on a walk from one hub to the next, with design objects placed strategically along the way and with entrepreneurs, restaurants and cafés along the route joining in the overall concept.

Another local entrepreneur was seated in the audience: Rob van der Ploeg, who currently owns the studios at Sectie C. He proposed setting up an Office of Creative Affairs in the city to help streamline the developments in these fast-paced times where so many things are happening all at once. It should be manned by people from the local creative scene and collaborate with entrepreneurs and experts to help the city build and sustain its image of design capital. The proposal was met with mixed responses from the panel, as being too top-down in a city that is used to taking a bottom-up approach, but Van der Ploeg responded by reconfirming his conviction that bottom-up is the way forward.

Who owns the future?
In the final round with audience participation the question arose: where are the younger generations tonight? Astrid Cats, Artistic Director of TAC was in the audience. She and the Temporary Art Centre represent a younger target group, but Cats indicated that the tenants at TAC hadn’t heard about tonight’s debate. The problem seems to be that the organising parties simply haven’t been able to reach younger audiences, as apparently neither the location Parktheater nor the medium ED are on their radar. One thing is certain, according to Cats, there is no reason to doubt their concern with the city and the role design plays in its make-up. Bas Raijmakers concurred: DAE students today initiate projects on precisely this type of issue and want to contribute to building a better society. In fact, DAE offers a Master course in Social Design that covers precisely this area – but socially motivated research and projects are conducted across the Design Academy ranks. These young designers of tomorrow can be a valuable addition in the creation of a Design Lab and other plans that were put forward in the discussion tonight. After all, the future of the city belongs to the next generation. 

Published: 14-Jun-2017 10:49


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  • Making Design More Visible

    Bas Raijmakers, reader in Strategic Creativity at Design Academy Eindhoven