The city of Dutch design
The Netherlands is definitely one of my favourite countries to visit. My visits so far (to Amsterdam, Delft, The Hague, ‘s-Hertogenbosch) have not disappointed and so I jumped at the chance to visit a new city: Eindhoven, which lies in the district of Brabant.
This city is very different to the others. There are no picturesque buildings along canal banks, (although there is one older square in this vein), but instead one of the first things you see in Eindhoven is the Blob. The Blob is a futuristic glass building, shaped like - well, a blob. But what a fantastic piece of architectural design it is - its glass panels curve in and out, reflecting sunlight as they go.
And it is this building which tells you that this is a different city – because it is all about Dutch design, and the future – but funnily enough, this emerges from its past.
Eindhoven is an historic city - it was granted its city rights in 1232 AD by Duke Hendrik I of Brabant. At this time, it consisted of 170 house enclosed by a city wall, with a small castle standing nearby, lying on the Dommel and Gender rivers. The city was granted the right to a weekly market which farmers from neighbouring villages were obliged to come and sell their produce at, and this market still continues today.
The city lay on the trade route from Holland to Liège so it grew and prospered over the centuries, despite being sacked by troops from Gelders in 1486 and destroyed by a fire in 1554. It was rebuilt by 1560 with the help of William of Orange and during the Dutch Revolt, the city changed hands several times between the Dutch and Spanish, until finally being captured by Spanish troops in 1583 and its city walls again demolished.
It became part of the Netherlands in 1629, but it was the industrial revolution in the 19th century which gave it new a beginning. Industrial activities initially centred around tobacco and textiles, but it was the rise of Philips, as a lighting and engineering leader, that turned Eindhoven into a bustling city. Gerard Philips came to the city in 1891 with his father and founded the company. After a difficult start, his younger brother, Anton, joined the company and he had a gift for sales. The company initially manufactured light bulbs but in 1920 branched out into electronics. As it grew, it needed warehouse space and housing for all its employees, and the population of Eindhoven grew from 5,000 to 100,000 from 1900 - 1930. Over 150 different nationalities lived and worked in Eindhoven and it was the centre of the company’s research and development.
The city was bombed a number of times during WWI; in December 1942, and again in 1943, the Philips Radio factory was bombed by the allies, and much of the city was destroyed in large-scale air raids. In 1944, in order to allow the allies to secure the bridges and take the city, it was bombed again, but it became the first city to be liberated in the Netherlands. The reconstruction that followed left very little historical remains and by all accounts there was little regard for its historical heritage.
In 1998, Philips moved from Eindhoven to Amsterdam which left many empty warehouses that needed filling. And this is where the brilliant idea and Eindhoven’s future was born: the warehouses made perfect space needed by innovative Dutch designers. And so Eindhoven became the centre for Dutch Design. And this is what gives this city such a tremendous buzz today - everywhere you look are innovative shops or studios that inspire.
In 1998, Philips moved from Eindhoven to Amsterdam which left many empty warehouses that needed filling. And this is where the brilliant idea and Eindhoven’s future was born: it has now become the centre for innovative Dutch Design...and this is what gives this city such a tremendous buzz – everywhere you look are innovative shops or studios that inspire
Mondrian to Dutch Design
This year celebrates the centenary of the De Stijl movement and the whole of the Netherlands is celebrating with events under the umbrella of
From Mondrian to Dutch Design. Therefore this is a perfect time to visit Eindhoven, as the city is the epicentre of Dutch Design and the home of the Design Academy Eindhoven, designer Piet Hein Eek, Dutch Design Week and many more wonderful designers and events.
Design here is all about future innovation as well as artistic endeavours. A walk around the city is delightful as you will discover things such as sculptured bronze chairs sitting either side of a billboard, lamp posts in the shape of a heart, street lamps in the shape of tulips or a subway featuring John Cleese’s Silly Walk.
Many of the shops are small, independent concerns, showing off local artists and designers. In the Heuvel shopping mall, for example, you will find the Cornerstore by Citydwellers where young entrepreneurs can hire a space in the store to sell their goods. Across the way there is a studio where young people can come and have a go at making their ideas a reality. Another shop, Design
Dany’s, sells innovative designs, and not just Dutch ones. The owner, Dick de Bruijn, also points out that it isn’t all about young designers; older, more well-known ones were young once. He stocks an Aladdin’s cave of dynamic and stylish pieces, from kitchen utensils to porcelain.
As part of the Mondrian to Dutch Design year, Eindhoven is putting on a number of events, including a walk, where you can discover ten hidden design gems in the city. Other initiatives include a brilliant Van Gogh - Roosegaarde cycle route. Inspired by Van Gogh’s Starry Night, the cycle path forms part of the Van Gogh cycle route that connects his heritage locations in Brabant, (which was his home area). Designed by artist Daan Roosegaarde, Heijmans (a Dutch construction company) has developed special innovative technology, so that the path is illuminated by thousands of twinkling stones, and is a must for everyone to see in the evenings.
A visit to designer Piet Hein Eek must also feature on your itinerary. Eek is a designer who specialises in not throwing anything away and recycling to the extreme, and his furniture is brilliantly innovative. His design studio has taken over some of the warehouse spaces vacated by Philips, and here everything is
under one roof. Around the art studio, there is also a showroom, gallery, ‘cabinet of curiosities’, shop, and fantastic restaurant (complete with indoor art displays involving cars).
Eindhoven is also home to the Van Abbemuseum, a museum of contemporary art which is putting on a special exhibition: Van Abbe
and De Stijl, which started in June. The exhibition shows works of art, architecture and design connected to the De Stijl movement. It includes a scale model by the founder of the movement, Theo van Doesburg. of a cinema-dancehall which was his first attempt to combine painting, architecture, sculpture and design in one subject. His colleague, Piet Mondrian, is also represented in the Van Abbe collection. The Museum also has a collection of modern and contemporary art, including works by Picasso, Kandinsky, Mondrian and Chagall.
Everything about Eindhoven is about art and design - even the restaurants and hotels. In need of coffee and cake one afternoon we stopped at a café called Denf Coffee. With a very arty, minimalist interior, what stood out instantly was the smell of coffee - and the huge coffee grinding machine! We were told they were formed because of an ‘inner urge to roast coffee in an artisan way and make quality coffee by combining knowledge, technology and design’. Who knew that coffee could involve such design specifications too?
For dinner one night we ate at Kazerne, where again, food, art and design are one. Owned by designer Annemoon Geurts, she combines fantastic food with similar interactive art installations, which change two or three times a year. Her restaurant started as a pop-up during design week in 2006, but she was keen to show off the many talented designers in the city and believes that by being in the restaurant, it adds an extra layer to the enjoyment of the design. We certainly found this to be the case, especially with one interactive light sculpture that lit up as you moved. But the designs here are not just for art’s sake - there was a row of wooden panels which kept opening and this was a design for a new type of ceiling fan. That was one of the aspects that I loved about Eindhoven: being subjected to innovative design rubs off on you and make you feel young and cool (when you are
anything but) - if only they could bottle that feeling!
I never thought I could be as fascinated by lightbulbs as I came to be when visiting this city. They truly took on a whole new meaning and it was astonishing to think what had been achieved because of its invention. A whole city had flourished because of it, and now innovative art and design was following in its wake. Therefore no visit to Eindhoven would be complete without visiting the Philips Museum. Even our hotel, the arty Inntel in the city centre is connected to lightbulbs. It, too, has taken over one of the abandoned Philips buildings, in this case the ‘Monumental Light Tower’, where many of the rooms are based. This had been built by Philips to produce and test lightbulbs and the hotel also houses art exhibitions in its foyer.
I found that after just a short time in this fantastic city I felt really inspired and rejuvenated. But make your travel plans now - there are only a few months left to enjoy the special events that belong to the centenary of Dutch Design - although Eindhoven will always be about innovation, art and looking to the future.
Above: 18 Septemberplein in the heart of the city (Image: © Nick Bookelaar) Below: A table from the Piet Hein Eek collection, made from off cuts of wood
Top: The emporium at designer Piet Hein Eek (Image: © Visit Brabant) Middle: Young Dutch design on sale in Eindhoven at the Cornerstoreby Citydwellers. Left: Figure made out of plastic containers at the Piet Hein Eek studio (Images: © Fiona Richards)
Images from past Dutch Design Weeks. Left: 2014 - Design Academy Eindhoven (Image: © Sjoerd Eickmans); Middle: 2014 - Design Academy Eindhoven (Image: © Boudewijn Bollmann); Bottom: Design Academy Eindhoven 2016 (Image: © Sjoerd Eickmans)