Perceived as a barometer for the spirit of our times, Dutch Design Week (DDW) provides an annual celebratory moment of, for and by design. Strolling between numerous booths and pavilions, the visitor is presented with an environment that is both fragmented and narrated. Combining characteristics of a festival, a fair and a museum presentation, the DDW simultaneously represents a diversity of developments in the field, and aims at creating spaces for criticality.

Design as Material Culture

Many sub-themes of this year’s edition of DDW "If Not Now, Then When?" resonate with ongoing programmes at Het Nieuwe Instituut. Distinctive here is the growing attention for design as a field of knowledge (moving away from an industry solely preoccupied with products), and an approach to design as a domain of material culture. Design is embedded in myriad invisible infrastructures, military-industrial systems, technologies and commodities. Instead of focusing on isolated objects of desire, this approach reveals our complex relationships with - and reliance on - things, and the interlacing of their aesthetic power with political and economic agency. In practice, that means prioritizing research and critical inquiry over techno-optimistic and solutionist design approaches. Examples of this method can be traced across central venues of DDW 2019. For instance, Geo—Design: Junk, a city-wide exhibition produced in collaboration with the Van Abbemuseum, showcases 18 projects by DAE alumni that focus on the global systems of discarded things, their hidden cartographies and regulations, and their new realities and potentialities.

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One way to answer that is provided by Neuhaus x Het Collectief, a group of master students from Design Academy Eindhoven. Het Collectief was born out of UnKnown, a collective formed during the Neuhaus programme as an independent satellite. Moving away from products and prototypes as market-driven, trend-setting tools, the collective develops a set of probes: instruments to explore the unknown, and to reveal the invisible entanglements of objects with non-human agents. During DDW, the collective will present a second generation of Border Objects, artefacts that suggest the possibilities of moving beyond human-centred practices, and will assemble (and disassemble) new types of design instruments.

Open Call

Another initiative that positions multispecies relationships at its centre is the Open Call for Venice that will be launched during the DDW by Het Nieuwe Instituut in collaboration with the Creative Industries Fund NL. The open call invites researchers and designers in the fields of architecture, urban design and landscape to think about the quality of cities from the perspective of more-than-human needs: from animals and plants to soil life and artificial cognitive systems. The selected projects will form the public parallel programme of the Dutch pavilion during the 17th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia in 2020. An information session about the Open Call will be held during Dutch Design Week on 22 October 2019.

A new initiative: ‘Reading Sites’

The shifting position of the designer, the expanding role of design research and critical inquiry, as well as the changing status of objects and materials in the face of escalating environmental crisis have led to a new initiative by Het Nieuwe Instituut. An initiative that reconfirms the existing role of the institute and is geared towards stimulating critical reflection in the broader field of design and the creative industries. With this new initiative, titled 'Reading Sites’, Het Nieuwe Instituut will invite three researchers/writers to reflect on sites and projects by both formal and informal parties at the 2019 edition of Dutch Design Week. Het Nieuwe Instituut is interested in the way that individual projects could form a basis of a new commons, and open alternative narratives for collective, shared and non-exploitative futures. ‘Reading Sites: Dutch Design Week 2019’ is the first in a series of texts that will cover a variety of events in the design field. More details to follow soon.