The name alone can be read as an ironic commentary on the task that the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science assigned us. By giving the name Het Nieuwe Instituut (literally The New Institute) to the fusion of three organisations that represented architecture, design and digital culture, the fledgling institution was saddled with a nomenclature as pretentious as it was meaningless: the very latest in the field of institutes, with a programme around the equally unclear concept of innovation.

From the outset, director Guus Beumer has taken Het Nieuwe Instituut’s task of addressing innovation very literally and has provided it with a critical intellectual framework. In 2014, soon after the institute had become operational, Beumer seized upon the commemoration of the outbreak of the First World War (1914-18) as the context for a series of activities in which radical renewal was not easily celebrated. As the programming made clear, every form of innovation creates conflict, and that conflict is perhaps much more interesting than the innovation itself.

Now, five years later, Het Nieuwe Instituut has curated the Dutch entry to the Milan Triennale in the form of the exhibition I See That I See What You Don’t See. Conflict is once again the subject. Technology and design have made an essential contribution to the creation of 24-hour production landscapes: good for the horticulture sector, but very disruptive for humans, animals and ‘unproductive’ forms of vegetation. 

These two examples are indicative of the way Het Nieuwe Instituut positions itself in relation to innovation. In this interview, Guus Beumer explains the choices ‘his’ institute has made and how – despite all the reservations – innovation has been given a central role in the organisation and its programming. Guus Beumer: ‘Our understanding of innovation resides not in the what, but in the how.’