Hubert Burda Media

Going Dutch

A new class of design is transcending the cliché of form over function.

“Grey but Mobile” — although hardly self-explanatory, these three words represent a purposeful initiative to improve mobility among today’s ageing society.
Initially developed by The Netherland’s prestigious educational institute for art, architecture and design, Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE), Grey but Mobile is a research-based project that aims to answer questions circling the availability of mobile solutions (such as vehicle designs) catered to the elderly.
In the common hope of enhancing independent living and social connectivity among the ageing community, DAE has joined hands with two other scholastic bodies — Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and Technische Universiteit Eindhoven (TU/e).
“I think the combination of different cultural backgrounds and geographical situations will throw in new insights,” explains Igor van Hooff, director of operations at DAE, when he was in town last November to inaugurate the two-year partnership.
It is the spearheading of projects like Grey but Mobile that is making Dutch product design stand out head and shoulders above its peers in the realm of design. Usually seen as quirky, conceptualistic and distinctive, it has certainly evolved.
Van Hooff adds: “Over the last decade, Dutch designers have stepped up to showcase new perspectives on design. Their core focus has shifted from aesthetic elements to making new developments in design, so that it isn’t about creating a nice lamp or chair, but going further and considering societal and contextual issues [that design can possibly alleviate].”
Often embracing the use of materials that are otherwise rejected, Dutch design gives the final product an entirely pristine value, usually emanating experimental and rational vibes. Being creative is no longer a matter of form over function but rather a marriage of both elements.
One of the biggest champions of this evolution is the DAE, which prides itself on taking in only the best. Despite its widespread reputation, long history of 67 years and countless applications for its four-year Bachelors and two-year Masters courses, the school caps its yearly student intake at 200.
“We’re selective. We choose our students and partners very carefully,” van Hooff says of DAE’s judicious criteria. It’s no wonder the academy has produced particularly gifted conceptualists and designers, including names such as Piet Hein Eek, Marcel Wanders, Bob Daenen and even Singaporean Hunn Wai.
On top of an elaborate eye, the school — which now occupies one of the vacated factories of electronics company, Philips — prides itself on its experienced tutors too. Leading industry practitioners are roped in to impart knowledge and skills while curriculums are skewed to reflect real-life context.
“It’s essential for a school like ours to connect with the world outside. For the academy, it’s interesting to witness new ideas come about. For the students, it’s great to work with people who know their craft and are from the relevant industries.”
The positive reception to Dutch inventiveness is, of course, not confined to just the Netherlands. Already, brands such as Moooi, Droog and Linteloo have inched their way into retail showrooms here, serving up a range of functional and aesthetically appealing products.
Be it an armchair put together with unwanted wooden beams, a table lamp that illuminates and magnifies or a cabinet made out of secondhand crates, our ever-progressing little red dot is quick to catch up on the Dutch design scene.
Needless to say, with this new Grey but Mobile partnership with DAE, there is more for Singapore — and the world — to anticipate from the city that is Eindhoven, deemed “most inventive in the world” by Forbes.


Three illustrious alumni from Design Academy Eindhoven have caught our eye with their impressive sense of artistry

Born and raised in the Netherlands, Piet Hein Eek stands among Europe’s most prominent green designers, whose works have exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He first made his name with his graduation project “Scrapwood Cupboards” in 1990 — he fused old wood and salvaged materials to make furniture — and now co-owns Eek en Ruijgrok (a studio and factory space which serves as a popular gallery, restaurant and showroom in Eindhoven) with fellow designer Nob Ruijgrok. The 47-year-old believes a designer should be involved in every aspect of a production process, including “using materials that people throw away”.

Afghan-born Massoud Hassani moved to the Netherlands at the age of 15 to pursue his passion for design. Disturbed by the alarming number of 30 million land mines back home, he constructed a low-cost wind-propelled detonator with a GPS tracking device that is capable of saving the lives of many. Surrounded by dozens of radiating bamboo “legs”, Mine Kafon mimics the footsteps of humans, acts as a giant tumbleweed and detonates mines beneath it. Hassani is the recipient of numerous honours and nominations (ICON Design of The Year 2012, Aria Honorary Awards 2013 and more), and has been praised by the likes of BBC, Time and Discovery Channel, just to name a few.

A product designer from our very own shores and recipient of the 2005 DesignSingapore Scholarship, Hunn Wai is co-founder of Lanzavecchia + Wai (established with friend and DAE alumnus Francesca Lanzavecchia), which has exhibited at Tokyo Design Week, the Milan Furniture Fair and IMM Cologne. He studied under the guidance of Gijs Bakker, co-founder of famed conceptual Dutch design company Droog. One of Wai’s recent accomplishments include MonoLight (a lamp that illuminates and magnifies), which was shortlisted for the Life-Enhancer of the Year award in Wallpaper* Magazine Design Awards 2013.