Eindhoven: A city of Design

Innovation, collaboration, invention, reinvention -- all with an eye on technology and design. That’s the DNA of Eindhoven, the fifth-largest city in the Netherlands.

By Diane Daniel

It’s been that way ever since the manufacturing giant Philips set up shop here in the late 19th century. The company designed groundbreaking inventions, from light revolution to product evolution. Along the way, it built sprawling factories, employee housing, cultural institutions, and even a soccer stadium. Three bombings during World War II destroyed much of Eindhoven’s original architecture. Eindhoven leaders got to work, rebuilding, renewing, reenergizing. Then came the bombshell: In the 1980s, Philips started shipping work overseas and in 1997 moved its headquarters to Amsterdam. Though Philips continues to have a powerful and innovative presence in Eindhoven, workforce changes there and at other large companies in the 1990s caused some 40 percent of Eindhoven workers to lose their jobs.

Collaboration

Eindhoven took this challenging turn of events as an opportunity to again do what it does best – work together, think smart, move forward, say yes, and stretch way beyond the box, often in unconventional ways. The city’s talented workforce, progressive government leaders, and advocates from all sides took the opportunity not only to shine on their own but as one force.
Within this fertile ecosystem, players like Design Academy Eindhoven, Technical University Eindhoven, Brainport Eindhoven, the High Tech Campus, and the City of Eindhoven, along with a host of established technical companies, start-ups, developers, and designers and other creatives, discovered ways to thrive -- as solo players and as teams. Instead of falling down, Eindhoven lifted itself up.

Talent town

These days, Eindhoven’s levitation act continues, especially in areas of design and technology, where each new generation builds on the innovations of the former. And the word has gotten out. In 2017, Eindhoven came in ninth in the Global City Talent Competitiveness Index, a global ranking of cities competing for, attracting, and retaining talent. The city’s annual Dutch Design Week now attracts around 300,000 national and international professional visitors to see the works of more than 2,000 designers, spread across the city like a giant festival that feeds the imagination. Every year, more students at the Design Academy and Technical University come from other countries, and every year more graduates are staying put, contributing to the next generation’s revolution. New design-oriented developments are nurturing further creativity and breakthroughs, like at Strijp S, Sectie C, and NRE. Some invite the public to partake of its wonders – industrial-hip architecture, maker shops, locally brewed craft beer, creative cooking, and a host of special events.

This convergence of creativity, craft, and concrete might surprise some outsiders, but here it all makes sense. It’s in Eindhoven’s DNA.

Design innovators

Across the city, makers, educators, and ambassadors are working both behind the scenes and under the spotlight to further elevate Eindhoven’s status as an international center for design and creativity. We’d like to introduce you to four design innovators who are making a difference.

Leonne Cuppen, founder & curator Yksi

Leonne Cuppen is passionate about bringing together designers and people interested in design, a drive that started as soon as she graduated from Design Academy Eindhoven in 1990. Cuppen does this through Yksi Connect, the platform she created to introduce designers and professionals in different disciplines, including technology, art, photography, virtual reality, and commerce, with the overarching themes of social design, sustainability, and innovation. Eindhoven, she says, is the perfect launching point for such a venture.

“More and more in Eindhoven, you see these kinds of collaborations,” says Cuppen, who was one of the initiators of Dutch Design Week. “I think our younger design graduates are really open minded and willing to cooperate, not doing everything by themselves. When I was graduating, it was different. Now designers are searching for people in other disciplines, but with the same holistic kind of view.”

The most visible ways Cuppen connects enthusiasts is by using Yksi Expo’s 600-square meters of space at Strijp S to display design exhibits and provide workshop space for both established and emerging designers, along with offering a small retail area. She provides work and display space for seven professional designers and three up-and-comers, all of whom contribute to running the operation.

“I combine different disciplines and ages to work and collaborate, but what they have in common is they work on social and sustainable projects or do something with innovative materials,” says Cuppen. She hopes these qualities are then passed on to visitors. “I want people to see it’s possible to change the world for the good by thinking about what we’re consuming.”

Cuppen also curates design exhibits that travel internationally, which in turn raise the visibility of young and upcoming designers. Another way she connects people is during First Fridays, a free monthly public event that focuses on design, technology, and knowledge.

As one of the early design voices in Eindhoven, Cuppen says she feels proud to have been involved in many initiatives to elevate the city’s position. “It felt like kind of a dream to get Eindhoven to the level it’s at now, and we never expected it would work out this quickly.”

Piet Hein Eek, designer

Piet Hein Eek has remained on the list of top Dutch designers since he burst onto the international design scene with Scrapwood, his series of colorful patchwork furniture made out of reclaimed wood, first available in 1993. This year, the spotlight finds Eek on his biggest stage ever – with his second line of products designed for Ikea. The limited edition collection, named Industriell, not surprisingly focuses on using recycled, sustainable, and socially responsible materials, with an added emphasis on reducing waste during production. The line includes rattan furniture, ceramics, textiles, glassware, armchairs, shelving, and more.

“It’s probably the most important moment of my career,” says Eek, who graduated from Design Academy Eindhoven in 1990. “It’s the first time I made a collection affordable for so many people and that I collaborated with a company so big that I had to cope with specific possibilities and problems. I’m very happy with the process and the results. Now more and more people know where we are and come to Eindhoven to see us.”

Eek certainly rewards visitors for their efforts, as he has created one of the city’s top design hot spots at Strijp T. In 2010, Eek moved his design and production facilities from the small city of Geldrop to a cluster of red-brick buildings in Eindhoven that once housed Philips’ ceramics factory. Eek added a showroom and retail store selling furniture, lighting, and accessories not only made by him but also by other Dutch designers, and he gives a special boost to those just starting out. He also opened an artsy restaurant decked out in his furnishings and lighting. By 2020, he plans to open a boutique hotel with 13 rooms on the showroom’s top floor.

“We wanted to provide an environment where people experience a complete idea of what we do,” says Eek, whose product brochure proudly announces: Made in Eindhoven, the Netherlands.

“I feel that Eindhoven has been important for the growth and possibilities we’ve had along the years,” he says. “If you want to design and produce, you need an environment where there’s suppliers and technology.”

Eek says he’s observed tremendous cultural growth in Eindhoven in the past decade. “I love the energy of Eindhoven,” he says. “It’s always changing in interesting ways.”

Jelle Mastenbroek, designer

“The best way to get a message across is to include a quirky factor,” says Jelle Mastenbroek, a designer, artist, and inventor who brings smiles – and musings – to viewers of his wildly creative devices. “If you’re too serious, people will stay away. Deliver something with a sense of humor and they pay attention.”

Mastenbroek’s most recent work has focused on technology and privacy. For instance, in “Data Orchestra,” a desktop sound installation starts with the swipe of a sort of card that reads data, a reminder of how companies transform personal details into a sort of currency. Or, in “J8D-001001-S,” unveiled at the 2018 Salone Del Mobile Milano, “hidden” cameras rise from bushes and peek between blinds to collect scans that determine a viewer’s age and gender.

Both data projects were collaborations with other designers, several of whom were his neighbors in an area called Sectie C, where Mastenbroek is still based. The sprawling complex, on the east edge of Eindhoven, is situated in a former factory and encompasses more than 250 workshops run by designers, makers, and other creative entrepreneurs. Mastenbroek credits Eindhoven’s “big village feeling” and the vast amount of talent located at Sectie C with putting complementary talent at his fingertips. In fact, his workspace is part of Collaboration O, a collection of designers who rent space, share equipment, and bounce ideas off one another.

“We share big machines for things like wood and metal, plus we have a nice working environment,” says Mastenbroek, adding that being surrounded by dozens of other designers at Sectie C energizes him.

When Mastenbroek isn’t making social statements, he works on commissions, many in his hometown, including designing the eye-catching signage at the finish point of the Eindhoven Marathon. For Dutch Design Week 2018, he’s collaborating on a new project to “make a kind of museum without a building, which is also interactive and has a festival kind of atmosphere.”

Mastenbroek calls that sort of work “a different way of thinking. I like the diversity, and it’s nice that you can reach a whole different group of people.”

Annemoon Geurts, founder & creative director Kazerne

Since opening in 2014, Kazerne has become a magnet for anyone interested in cutting-edge design and a top-notch meal. Just in time for Dutch Design Week 2018, the combination gallery space, restaurant, and design shop will debut a boutique hotel, its eight rooms individually styled to complement current exhibits.

The force behind transforming former military police barracks (“kazerne” means “barracks” in Dutch) into a stylish venue is Annemoon Geurts, with her partner, Koen Rijnbeek. Like many of the designers whose work Geurts highlights, she graduated from Design Academy Eindhoven and has a special affinity for its students, who regularly attend exhibit openings, talks, and social events, as do  locals and internationals of all ages.

“Although we are involved in many areas, our first mission is to celebrate design and to bring the impact of design to the people, especially design linked to Eindhoven,” says Geurts. “During Dutch Design Week, all doors are open and design is very visible in the city. We’re here to celebrate it every day of the year. We want to bring design to the broad public.”

Geurts wants people to see that design is not only about objects but also can have social impact and be used for creative thinking in many areas. She approaches that goal by both hosting exhibitions and offering programs that bring together innovation and design-minded people from multiple walks of life and work.

“We have an Innovation Café every Thursday to connect the different disciplines here in Eindhoven by reaching out to the tech and design community and knowledge workers, and whatever else we can do to help designers and their stakeholders, we will,” she says. In September, Geurts will launch a learning program that will include debates, inspiration sessions, and master classes.

“We have so much talent from the Design Academy and Technical University Eindhoven -- and of course the breeding ground started in Eindhoven with Philips and continues with other companies based here now,” Geurts says. “Design is in our DNA, and the impact of what happens here in Eindhoven is worldwide.”

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