16 Groundbreaking Dutch Designers to Know Now

An exhibition heralds a new wave of Dutch designers plying technology and craft.
Text by

In an odd twist, a particular cadre of Dutch designers traveled from San Francisco, California, to the Netherlands for last fall’s Dutch Design Week 2015 in Eindhoven.

The San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design's exhibition Hands Off: New Dutch Design at the Confluence of Technology & Craft highlighted Amsterdam-based Marcel Wanders’ Knotted chair, one of the first examples of an industrially produced object that goes beyond traditional handcrafting. Contemporary Dutch designs often embody the core ideas that went into this now-iconic piece.

Many of DDW’s 270,000 global attendees visited Hands Off: New Dutch Design at the Confluence of Technology and Craft, curated by this writer for the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco, where it was first shown from May through September.

Eric Klarenbeek’s chair, the Mycelium Project, has a 3D-printed skin of recycled organic material that is filled with a lightweight fungus that provides structural strength. Working from Amsterdam with the University of Wageningen, Klarenbeek used a mixture of water, powdered straw, and mycelium fungus fibers to print a hollow chair that has a bio-plastic skin. As the interior dries, the living mycelium fungus grows within. Combined with 3D printing, it can be made into anything, according to Klarenbeek, from compostable walls for a house to entire cities.

"Exposure in the USA has its own cachet at home," explains Hedwig Heinsman of DUS architects, whose award-winning 3D-printed Canal House in Amsterdam was part of the exhibition. More than 20 other disparate, avant-garde, futuristic works, created with digital or repurposed analog processes, also demonstrated how widespread this approach is among Dutch designers, for whom old and new technologies are "tools" and also "materials" used to form interactive experiences. Architecture, furniture, fashion, and socially conscious experiments are all brought into a new era of making, and as the show's title implies, often without the use of hands.

Award-winning designer Jolan Van der Wiel founded his Amsterdam studio in 2011 on the strength of a single idea: that he could create unusual shapes by manipulating gravity. Supported by a wood crucible, he wields large magnets like a puppeteer to manipulate and extrude a mixture of resins and metal shavings contained in a shallow bowl to form unfamiliar shapes. Stools, tables, and even shoes and dresses wear his anti-gravity look.

These emerging Dutch designers emulate nature’s exquisite shape-making as simply and startlingly as Droog designer Marcel Wanders did with his 1997 Knotted chair, made of carbon fiber rope dipped and hardened in resin. Wanders’ contemporary, veteran designer Claudy Jongstra, whose fabric art will be featured in May at the much-anticipated SFMOMA building by Snohetta, has long approached craft from this perspective.

Van der Wiel’s three-legged Gravity Stool, which is produced upside-down, owes its unique shape to the pull of opposing magnetic fields. By manipulating them, he twists a thick, primordial-looking mixture of resin-and-steel fragments into one-of-a-kind forms.

Hands Off features young designers relying on technology, biology, and nature, who are shaping a new era of craft and suggesting new paradigms for living. Take a look here. 

Fashion-tech designer Anouk Wipprecht’s white Spider Dress 2.0 was developed with Philip Wilck along the lines of a previous dress she made inspired by arachnids. The 3D-printed robotic garment with eight jointed arms (activated by sensors and Intel Edison chips with artificial bio-signal intelligence) protects the wearer. Depending on the wearer's mood—agitated or pleased—the arms of the dress spring upward to ward off intrusions.

Eindhoven’s Massoud Hassani of Hassani Design BV emulated natural "technology" with his Mine Kafon, a low-tech landmine detector that is powered by gravity and wind energy. It contains a GPS chip to precisely transmit the location of mines it has detected or detonated. The 175-pound prototype is heavy enough to trip land mines while rolling across the ground or down hills in the outskirts of, say, Kabul, Afghanistan, where Hassani used to play as a child with homemade wind-powered toys alongside his younger brother.

The Hands Off installation at the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco included Martijn Koomen’s wood-and-glass cylindrical pavilion and Tiddo Bakker’s kinetic sculptural chandelier In Vena Verbum, hanging from a three-legged wood arch.

From within Martijn Koomen’s installation, you can see feathers swirling within double-walled windows. In this conceptual prototype, Koomen demonstrates how changing weather, like high winds, can be harnessed to create special effects in interiors.

Tiddo Bakker’s In Vena Verbum (Message in a Vein), is a kinetic metal sculpture, with motors and circuitry activated by a houseplant that is stimulated by light.

At his eponymous studio that is affiliated with Collaboration O’, Bakker enlisted the help of physicist Henk Jalink and his team at the Centre for BioSystems Genomics to measure the activity and stress level of the plant and transmit that energy digitally to cause the sculpture to move.

Shylights, by StudioDrift’s Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta, are wirelessly operated chandeliers that emulate the diurnal opening and closing of flowers. Hands Off included original prototypes, but five new Shylights hang permanently in the Rijksmuseum’s newly opened Philips Wing.

The installation included ByBorre’s quilted BatoMa Spectrum Cycle "tower," produced by a mattresses quilting company. Created by Amsterdam’s Borre Akkersdijk the quilted stitching is designed so that the fabric can be used for mattresses or be easily cut—without destroying the quilting—into garment shapes. See the award-winning video that illustrates the process by Niel Hoebers.

In the foreground, a hollow gold object called Sleeping Gold by exhibition/interior designer Grietje Schepers constantly expands and contracts. It changes shape like a living, breathing companion in the room thanks to a concealed air pump.

Amsterdam’s DUS Architects, the firm led by Hans Vermuelen, Hedwig Heinsman and Martine de Wit, are perhaps best known for 2013's 3D Print Canal House. DUS is now making recyclable tableware printed with organic waste materials. Potato Tableware is printed with plastics made from the scraps of spuds. The shapes of the vessels are also derived from potatoes.

Amsterdam’s Dirk van der Kooij developed the Endless chair, Chubby chair, RvR chair, Melting Pot table, Flow table, and Fresnel lamp between 2010-2014 in Eindhoven. His furniture, which is printed in an unbroken stream of plastic, was shown as part of Hands Off at the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco.

Daniel de Bruin’s THIS NEW TECHNOLOGY is the world's first analog 3D printer, made of metal parts, weights, and a single bent wire that is "coded" to make different shapes. It is an ironic foil to computerized 3D printers that make things swiftly and efficiently.

Along with Mark Brand and Remon van den Eijnden, Raw Color, an Eindhoven design partnership led by Christoph Brach and Daniera ter Haar, created Feeds per Minute, a digital data clock with no hands. It projects world events minute-by-minute onto a wall, harvesting news feeds off the Internet in real time.

Designer Aoife Wullur’s Shades of Light are fabric scrims and screens woven with fine strands of low-voltage wiring that conduct power to tiny magnetized LED lights. The starry droplets can be clustered to create different levels of illumination within one space. The concept fabric will someday be sold by the yard to make new kinds of curtains, room dividers, spot lighting, and even chandeliers.

Dennis Parren, a former graphic designer and illustrator, created the CMYK Sculpture, a chandelier that casts split-colored shadows. Parren applied filters to the LED bulbs based on his knowledge of additive and subtractive light, pigment color theories, and how cyan (C), magenta (M), yellow (Y) and black (K) interact. This important lighting innovation could someday be used for mood-altering light therapies.

Jolan Van der Wiel has devised magnetized cords that allow embedded LED lights that turn on-and-off in aberrant sequences that appear to flow. At the Hands Off exhibition in Eindhoven, Van der Wiel’s Cordulights were used to backlight the signage.

During Dutch Design Week 2015, the Hands Off exhibition was shown in the Veemgebouw building. It included designer Eric Klarenbeek’s experiments with mycelium.

Random Studio, an interactive digital design studio based in Amsterdam, and Petrovsky & Ramone created Our Kisses, a wish-bone shaped contraption that invites viewers to kiss one end while a camera hidden at the other end records them.

The project aimed to bring strangers together onscreen with a simple human gesture that extends beyond race, age, and gender. The installation was originally created for the Oxymoron exhibition of Petrovsky & Ramone during Beijing Design Week 2013.


Last Updated

Get the Dwell Newsletter

Be the first to see our latest home tours, design news, and more.