Why must it always be possible to sit on a chair? This seems an unnecessary question. After all, the function of a chair is precisely to be sat on. But if the aim is not to design yet another new chair but to devise a completely new way of sitting, the question suddenly becomes highly relevant. When it comes to experimental designs that are exploring not just a new utilitarian object or building but a new type of product or architecture, the old certainties no longer apply. That is when a critical stance becomes essential. And then, the fact that a chair can be sat on – or that a house can be lived or worked in – is no longer its most important function. All that counts whether the design stimulates new thoughts and insights.
The building or chair – but also a lamp, a complete interior or even a park – transcends its initial function and becomes a generator of ideas. It makes you aware of new possibilities, and perhaps even of a new ethic. So here is a much more interesting question: Why shouldn’t a chair be able to say something about political issues, such as poverty? And why couldn’t a building throw new light on the world food problem?
This critical stance on the part of the designer has emerged in recent decades as a defining characteristic of Dutch architecture and design. It has become accepted that design is not just about making pretty things, but also contributes to the quality of our society by expressing criticism or provoking debate. Of course, complex issues such as environmental pollution, globalisation and an aging population cannot be solved by a single chair. But a chair can certainly raise awareness – and the fact that you can still sit on it afterwards is a bonus.
Fragment from our upcoming bookThink Dutch, scheduled to be released this fall in co-operation withDAAB Publishersand written by Jeroen Junte and David Keuning. The text and images in this article are a preview of the chapter Make Conscious.
Think Dutchpresents over 450 architectural projects and product designs devised by the most creative contemporary minds. They afford impressive proof of cutting-edge thinking, and show that future-oriented visions are arising out of crisis in the Netherlands.