Dutch Design Week.
Eindhoven has grown over the years to its status as one of the Netherlands’ biggest cities, in large part due to it being the founding place of Philips – one of the world’s leading electronics manufacturers – 125 years ago.
It was a city centred on creation and manufacturing, starting with the tobacco and textile industries before Philips’ light bulb manufacturing plant and headquarters set up there in 1892. They developed the Strijp area rapidly, adding each need of their booming business as they went, in the form of labs, offices, packaging, production and testing facilities, and around them the city thrived.
Fast-forward to 2001 and Philips had completed its departure from the city and rehomed in Amsterdam, a sprawling legacy of offices, warehouses and factories lying in its Eindhoven shadow. But far from becoming another eerily fascinating abandoned city, it prospered. Fuelled by the science, technology and engineering know-how of the area and its inhabitants, and with the post-war opening of the internationally renowned Design Academy Eindhoven, the city was ready to make a new name for itself in the world of design. And it really did.
2016 marked the fifteenth annual Dutch Design Week, held each October in Eindhoven, celebrating the best in creation and innovation from the country’s most prominent or promising designers. It attracted over 295,000 international visitors, around 80,000 more than Eindhoven’s entire population. Taking place in over 100 locations across the city, the main hub being in Strijp, the DDW programme contained 430 curated exhibitions and presentations spread over nine days, with live music events taking the buzz of the week into the wee hours.
So what did we see? Under the banner of the theme ‘The Making Of’, this year’s event focused on the making process and the makers. Renowned designers were in abundance but, like every year, young talent had the opportunity to experiment and shine. Trends and innovations emerged that this year encompassed sustainability – seen everywhere throughout the week – as well as classic materials repurposed in pioneering ways that incorporated a lightness too: perforated concrete that allowed light to penetrate seemingly solid walls; buildings created entirely from lightweight foam; adaptable bricks formed from paper; “leather” and “wool” created from unlikely materials like fruit and pine needles, the latter – ‘Forest Wool’ by Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Tamara Orjola – scooping the Best of Dutch Design Week prize.
The Design Academy Eindhoven opens the doors to its graduate show each year too, allowing DDW visitors the chance to see the newest crop of design, art and architecture talent from the illustrious institution. Piet Hein Eek’s expansive workshops, galleries and showrooms, slightly to the west of Strijp, add another dimention to the city’s abilities in craftsmanship and artistry. Highly glossed timber, reclamation and recycling – which Piet Hein Eek is famed for – were the main trends on display and available to buy, the selection of wares as diverse as chairs made from metal pipes to Piet Hein Eek’s newly launched eyewear and his watch collaboration with Leff Amsterdam. Adjoining the main building of workshops is a restaurant and bar where you can deliberate which pieces you definitely need and how you’ll get them home.
Around the main design events, the small city of Eindhoven packs a punch in terms of entertainment and refuelling options, even outside of the peak DDW season. The impressive DDW Music programme takes the crowds into the night, with numerous live music events dotted around the city and acts from the US, UK and Europe (and probably more that we didn’t manage to discover). The bars and clubs that host and surround the events offer a range of different options, from Stratumseind’s strip of nightlife and drinking holes that stretch the length of the street to the industrial environments of the bars and restaurants in the former Philips buildings in Strijp.
The dining experience in Eindhoven is somewhat different to our London norm, we discovered. Firstly, take cash. Very few outlets will accept cards, and when they do, it is usually limited to Maestro (good luck trying to get one of them from your bank after 2009). Even the largest supermarket chain doesn’t accept credit cards, which when we have come accustomed to swiping our contactless Amex for the morning Pret, comes as a bit of a shock. Secondly, don’t expect a menu. Okay, most places do have them, but we ate at Radio Royaal and Ketelhuis – both beautifully near-untouched in former factory buildings – and were presented with ‘surprise’ menus. Of course, there are options of vegetarian courses and dietary changes, but the quite daunting experience resulted in some of the best food we’ve ever eaten – blue cheese soup, Japanese fish, braised beef, goat’s cheese tortellini, inventive desserts – washed down with rather reasonably priced and delicious wine.
Stay at the Art Hotel, the luxurious Van Der Valk Hotel or the distinctively cool Glow. Breakfast at Usine, taking up the corner of the Philips Light Tower (we did say they pretty much built the city) where the world’s light bulbs used to be tested, or take in delicious coffee and avocado toast at Melbourne-inspired Zwartwit Koffie (translated as Blackwhite Coffee) in Victoria Park. Shop at Urban Shopper – think Urban Outfitters meets chic marketplace with vintage fashion, sneakers, furniture and Scandi-cool Gardrobe offering timeless brands like Samsoe & Samsoe and Libertine Libertine – and refuel at the Pastry Club. Take a look in Area 51, one of Europe’s largest skateparks, and marvel at the tricks and feats of those a quarter of your age from the viewing platform; you can rent a board too, but make sure you have travel insurance first. Sissy Boy which stocks trendy individual men’s and women’s styles, much cooler than the name suggests, in a glass domed building near the main shopping streets. Rambam’s choice, from Japanese selvedge to sustainable, will cater to all your denim needs before stopping for a coffee and delving into the ample bookcases of Boekhandel Van Piere.
All in all, Dutch Design Week is only one (albeit a main one) reason to spend a couple of days in Eindhoven. A whole cultural season kicks off in September, with Eindhoven’s fashion weekend, a winter festival, DDW and Glow light festival. Throughout the spring and summer months, culinary, urban and technology events, as well as sports cups and the Eindhoven marathon take place. Then there is PSV’s home – Philips Stadion (of course!) – bang in the middle of the city which turns the surrounding area into an electric buzz at home games.