Today, we’re facing a growing number of critical social challenges in our communities. To name a few, loneliness has hit epidemic levels, cities are undergoing gentrification at breakneck speed, and the plotline of Her seems more realistic by the day. At Dutch Design Week, we saw a multitude of proactive responses to these issues, scalable at urban, suburban and rural levels. Creatives are uncovering strategic new ways to think about public space and foster interaction and connection in them.


Floor Skrabanja

Photo: Nicole Marnati, Courtesy of Design Academy Eindhoven

THE PROJECT: An accessible space for child-driven play

ITS IMPACT: Skrabanja’s project acknowledges that opportunities for children to play – ‘especially outdoors with other children’ – have declined in the past half-century and that in that time, ‘measures of psychopathology in children and adolescents have continually increased’. Play! addresses this need for accessible recreation space. Within the environment – designed to help users develop motor skills and suggest an imagined world of their own – stimuli are geared toward collaboration, without surveillance or preset games or rules.


Colin Keays

Photo: Femke Reijerman

THE PROJECT: A series of immersive spatial performances

ITS IMPACT: First a gay bar, then a café, an Airbnb, luxury property-marketing event and finally, an ambiguous realm between construction site and rubble: Keays’ 'Soon All This Will Be Picturesque Ruins', renovated to be each over a short period of time, took place at a disused shed in Eindhoven slated for redevelopment. The installation is a commentary on – and prompt to critique and respond to – the various clichés associated with gentrification and the diminishing presence of ‘queer’ space in cities.


Lian Kroes

Photo: Nicole Marnati, Courtesy of Design Academy Eindhoven

THE PROJECT: A viewing device

ITS IMPACT: Kroes’s periscope-like device lives on a lamp post, inviting passers-by to shift their gaze and take another look at surroundings they’re likely well familiar with. ‘Having a strong interest in daily life and its normalities, I see my work as a challenge to change the way people look at things by offering alternate perspectives,’ explains Kroes, ‘perspectives that can change the way we look to our environment, to society and to ourselves.’


Jasper Zehetgruber

Photo: Nicole Marnati, Courtesy of Design Academy Eindhoven

THE PROJECT: A magnetic installation for donation collection

ITS IMPACT: Referencing the rituals of throwing coins into wishing wells, adding love-locks to bridges and building stone towers next to hiking trails, Zehetgruber designed The Beauty of Giving with the purpose of making the impact of donation palpable. The magnetic structure grows with each coined contribution, becoming a three-dimensional sculpture built by altruism – a visual representation of the cause it supports. ‘The act of donation is not only about giving away money to a good cause, but also becoming a part of the supported project - creating something together,’ says Zehetgruber.


Émilien Neu

THE PROJECT: A ‘textile playground’ with tactile modules

ITS IMPACT: Neu refers to Chatroom as a modern boudoir: the designer was inspired by the private quarters of 18th-century royals while creating the interactive space. ‘Then, the main exercise in these kinds of rooms was discussion: of drama, romance, rumours,’ he explains. ‘Today, these activities are taking place online daily. They’re less privileged but also less physical.’ Chatroom is thus built to promote social interaction through touch, aided by several tactile modules and features.



THE PROJECT: Tech-enabled seating

ITS IMPACT: What if starting conversations with strangers was second nature? Hoping to help combat the loneliness epidemic, designers Mingus Vogel and Justus Bruns of Vouw envision a society where that’s the norm with Chairwave. As an individual sits down on one chair, glowing blue seats on each side fold down, inviting others to join and socialize. Vogel and Bruns believe that Chairwave can build awareness about the value of face-to-face conversation and connection.


Finn Goodman

THE PROJECT: An electric heating system for use in urban environments and indoors

ITS IMPACT: Goodman’s time in the Scouts inspired Reminiscing Campfires: the wood-and-steel heating system was born out of his drive to create a product that would bring about the same feeling of togetherness as gathering around a fire. ‘By using electric heating elements, I can bring these moments to a more urban environment and to the indoors,’ the designer says. ‘It then becomes a tool to invite people to the fire outside of its usual environment and target group – this way, it can be used as a kind of intermediary between different people.’


Eva Jack

Photo: Wibke Bramesfeld

THE PROJECT: A video installation for natural-history institutions

ITS IMPACT: Humans must get behind display glass to experience Parallel Lives, which prompts visitors of natural-history museums to view other species in a different light. Jack’s work subverts the roles of the observer and observed: ‘Designed for the human gaze, museum displays are theatrical representations of nature whereby animals begin to play out our own beliefs, biases and ideals,’ she explains. ‘As such, it’s worth questioning: do natural-history museums facilitate an anthropocentric vision of the world?’ Inside the box, re-narrated archival footage plays.


Yanjin Wu

THE PROJECT: A metaphorical textile installation

ITS IMPACT: Members of the public are invited to explore a collection of objects designed by Wu, each concealed under soft textile. As the pieces are revealed, people can form their own contextual understanding of them. ‘Their hidden shape and function requires the same exploration as is needed to discover the boundaries between two humans,’ explains the designer. ‘We all have different boundaries in dealing with different people, also depending on cultural context – we need continuous communication to discover our boundaries.’

See more coverage from Dutch Design Week, past and present, here.