Dutch Design Week: Northern Europe’s biggest design event

Over here is an extraordinary next-generation driverless car from Renault. Over there is a what looks like a huge she-wee but which is an underground  “ground fridge”.  Upstairs is some bonkers work-in progress from first year students.

Welcome to the glorious chaos that Dutch Design Week. Each year in late October over 300,000 art and design enthusiasts visit Eindhoven for this vast celebration and Tim Burke was invited along to take an all-too-brief look.

Driverless Car

Some 2,600 designers  from around the world come to the spiritual home of Dutch design to exhibit their work and engage in debate. Eindhoven, main city of the province of North Brabant, is where tech giant Phillips set up home and is the place where the CD was invented and where 80 per cent of the chips that power your devices were developed. The next big thing could just be here now – and what fun to dig around for it.

Arriving at the train station you immediately realise how design has taken over this town for a week. Big queues are forming at the booths dispensing wristbands that will get you into everything – it’s no exaggeration to call this the Glastonbury for creatives.


It’s then a short walk up to the Strijps area – huge, long buildings that once housed Phillips production lines and are now home to a vibrant mix of innovative retail outlets, bars, restaurants and of course design businesses and education facilities.

Our little group’s first visit is to the Growing Pavilion – described by its designers as “an ode to the beauty and power of bio-based materials” . It showcases building materials that are grown, not made. These guys are serious about sustainability, with a floor made from  bulrushes, benches made from rice straw and  walls made from mycellium, the kind of fungal substrate from which mushrooms bloom. Indeed everyday they would harvest mushrooms from the walls and give them out to visitors.

The building used a third as much C02 as conventional building materials, but factor in the CO2 calculations from growing the materials, which are reuse after the life of the pavillion, and then there is a negative CO2 balance of 10 tonnes.

We then decide to split so everyone can just explore on their own. The next few hours are taken up with finding out about 3D printed food, talking barbecues and fast-charge electric racing cars set to take part in Le Mans in 2023. The displays are collected in “design routes” ranging from “future living” to “bio design” to digital, new materials and architecture. There’s a crackle and buzz about the whole city as punters rush to take as much of it in as possible, shooting around on buses or special electric taxis for the event, free to wrist band holders and each featuring a rooftop design icon.


What made the biggest impact for me was in the Art and Collectibles strand – Rocco Verdult’s StillLeven (Still Life) exhibition. To mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the province of Brabant from Nazi occupation, Verdult interviewed 75 locals about their wartime experiences. He then made tiny dioramas replicating key events, all in white (or black for night-time happenings) with only the key characters in colour. Each of these 75  tableaux are displayed on plinths around a vast room, enabling visitors to walk around and grasp the storytellers perspectives. Together they form a hugely moving, humanistic tribute to the bravery of an occupied people.

So then it was time to retire to a watering-hole to discuss what we had seen. We chose Kaserne a remarkable bar set in old police barracks that also serves a leading design exhibition space all year round and a smart restaurant and boutique hotel. For DDW, it really comes into it’s own, packed out with many of the diaspora Dutch designers who return home for this unmissable week.

Chef Cas Pikaar

Brabant is famous in Holland for the quality of its hospitality and the region has an astonishing 21 Michelin stars. Tonight we’ve got a hot ticket for the restaurant widely seen as being the next on that august – Restaurant Doyy.  Chef Cas Pikaar offers us more cutting edge design, this time on a plate.

Pikaar is a local lad with Azerbaijani heritage, and his cuisine is a thrilling mix of contemporary Dutch produce with hints of the Steppes. In particular the restaurant is now producing the finest caviar in Europe, having set up their own sturgeon farm in massive tanks in Eindhoven. We are treated to a healthy dollop of dreamy oscietra caviar, consumed in traditional style off the back of the hand. It has unbelievably pure flavour,  but maybe its chief joy is its texture – the thrill as it sensually dissolves on the tongue is truly disconcerting. It’s no surprise they are now supplying many of Western Europe’s top restaurants.

Then follows an impeccable series of modern classics – a cornet of silky goose liver topped with a ginger sorbet, mackeral tartare with tigermilk (a Peruvian marinade for ceviche), eel with an apple foam, a matcha tea desert with flavours of passionfruit, coconut and yoghurt.

We had a few hours at DDW. You’d need a few days to do much more than scratch the surface, but even one day gives a terrific insight into the state of modern European design. And in case you are wondering – almost all information is in English as well as Dutch and virtually everyone speaks good English.

Brabant is great to visit at any time, but why not start planning your visit for DDW 2020 right now?

Useful Links

Dutch Design Week – www.ddw.nl/

Visit Brabant – www.visitbrabant.com/en

Kaserne –www.kazerne.com/en 

Restaurant Doyy- www.doyy.nl/

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