In just a short two decades, Dutch Design Week has grown into becoming the largest industry event in Northern Europe, only outmatched on the continent by the grande dame of happenings Milan Design Week. While the former is far more commercial—focusing on the latest product launches—the former positions itself as a cultural platform. Held in the mini-metropolis of Eindhoven—famed as the historical seat of the electronics giant Philips and more recently the hallowed Design Academy Eindhoven—the festival pinpoints the latest zeitgeist, fosters new discussions, and celebrates talents—young and old—and in turn, pushes the domain forward. More and more, industrial partners have also gotten involved, especially where their goals intersect with new dynamic approaches to material generation, production, and consumption. This recent influx of commercial interest is putting much of the rich speculative and experimental work percolating from every corner of this town to task and into application.
Located in the south of the Netherlands and a stone’s throw from Belgian and German borders, this post-industrial, provincial town has rapidly expanded in the past twenty years. Tech companies have moved in but without pricing everyone else. Their increased presence seems to seamlessly match with the many independent designers and small brands that have re-implemented and set up shop in former factories—many left behind by Philips. These studios, fabrication workshops, incubation labs, and other facilities have been transformed. Joining them is a slew of new retail, hospitality, and even residential developments, helping to alleviate The Netherland’s severe housing shortage.
Within this small, populous, industrious, and innovative country, design is seen as a major cultural and economic asset. From architectural and engineering solutions that keep the sea at bay in much of The Netherland’s northern regions to the explosion of autonomous, expressive, and conceptual talents and collectives that emerged at the turn of the 21st century—Droog Design, Maarten Baas, Jurgen Bey, Richard Hutten, Piet Hein Eek, Hella Jongerius, Wieki Somers, Hester van Eeghen, and Marcel Wanders; many of which graduated from and taught at the Design Academy Eindhoven. Because of this, the government has a strong tradition of providing cultural and financial support to up-and-comers, new initiatives, educational institutions, and cultural platforms. While larger cities like Rotterdam and Amsterdam play a role in shaping this part of the national identity, Eindhoven is the true nucleus of dutch design.