Monthly Archives: October 2011

DUTCH TREAT

It's that time of year again – the days are getting darker and temperatures are dropping.

But not in this town, they're not. Eindhoven is the place of the action and the City of Light is warming up to welcome another Dutch Design Week – the tenth edition this year!

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The old Philips manufacturing- and R&D site Strijp-S has undergone serious changes in recent years. Formerly known as Eindhoven's own Forbidden City, the glorious past of this holy ground is clearly taken seriously by the local council, which obviously cherishes its cultural and architectural treasures that are so closely connected to the Dutch megabrand. Exclusive lofts are for rent, next to uniquely historical buildings with names like the 'Clock building', 'Machine room' and 'Boiler house'.

With the 'Design on Wheels' workshop as our main target for today (not in the last place for its fun social aspect – catching up with friends and colleagues), most of the visit evolves around this area of the DDW. Surely, other carfreax will report on the Graduation Show of the Design Academy later on – carfreak Rik and I stick to browsing the events on Strijp-S today.

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On this breeding ground of the Dutch lightbulb industry, it is only natural that a lot of work refers to lighting, often ornamental but sometimes rightfully clever. The smart and practical ideas are displayed side-by-side with the whimsically silly or totally crazy – but all are great to watch.

We see beautiful interpretations of patterns and structures, in various materials, from fragile folded paperwork to intricate hand-made jewelry – and a massive orange taped-up airplane. 

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The aspiration of authenticity is still all over the place. Honest materials – and usage thereof. Recyclability. C2C. What you see is what you get. 

And wood is still hot. Literally. Maarten Baas' burnt furniture is newly interpreted. The material is used everywhere, to great extent, sometimes meticulously and skilfully painted, but often shown with its natural grain visible, seemingly unfinished.

Other local hero Piet Hein Eek still has a clear impact on what seem to be many of his disciples here. His tried and tested pattern of tied-together stacks of furniture is also still present if you look for it. But newly interpreted. Evolution of revolutionary ideas.

Craftsmanship is shown in most of the one-offs we see. A questionable trend, with the cost of labour being anything but competitive in Europe. Will it last?

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Of course there is also fantastic and acclaimed consumer product design presented here, as there is attention for leading edge technologies. The biggest thrill of 'Eindhoven' however, is the combination of the traditionally optimistic and often audacious student work and one-(wo)man startups. 

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We hear that Milan is the place to be if you want to know what's going on – yet, Eindhoven will show you what to expect …in two years' time in Milan.

Of course we believe the hype :)

- Geert.

FAST FORWARD

Fourth time in China – first time in Beijing.

And I am so lucky. A cheaper and earlier flight across, combined with a cancelled meeting on Sunday, buys me extra time in the Beijing region. And before I know it, the carfreax network has caringly absorbed this lonesome traveler. Although I manage to only catch one hour of sleep on my Moscow-connected flight, I decide to grab my chances – and after a damn' good cup of coffee I find myself on an orange (!) coloured designer bike, trailing closely behind my host, criss-cross past the Beijing highlights. Jetlag is for sissies! A snapshot tour, shooting from the hip. Three hours to go, the clock is counting. Yet, I am so lucky. Thank you Wout!

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From the stylish hi-brow residential areas to the city's hutongs is just a fifteen-minute ride. We cross some of the huge circular motorways and before I know it we find ourselves in what feels like an intimate and tiny village. Controversially, this is where the true heartbeat of the giant metropolis sounds. Miniscule houses, tiny shops. Workshops and showrooms on the pavement. Bird and grocery shops give colour to the grey overtones. Streetlife. The bicycle still proves to be an invaluable means of transport to get around – certainly in these narrow streets. 

It is hard to believe that only six years ago, half of the Beijing population lived like this (source: Wikipedia). No sanitary rooms, no electricity. Such confrontation with the speed of development here. Yet, these are real pearls in the cultural necklace that is Beijing. Luckily, the authorities are aware.

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We carry on and reach the Drum- and Bell Tower, two towering structures, which are even more impressive with the empty square in between. How different that must have looked, last week, when China celebrated its 'Golden Week' national holiday. This square is where China time was kept and communicated, across many dynasties, 'till way into the twentieth century when modern day clockwork finally replaced it. The soldiers of old are now frozen in time – like ancient Han Solos – while their modern day colleagues are busy exercising drills, a couple of miles away, inside the Forbidden City walls. This is Old Beijing's central axis, no longer the city's main north-south connection but certainly the cultural spine of the city.

We make our way back south, past the beautiful lakes where the top party officials live today. Tons of clubs and bars by the lakeside. I'll be back tonight, when this will be the center of activity. It's now or never.

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Meanwhile it's 5 PM and this Cinderella is racing the clock. Sunset at six! We make it in time for the much-anticipated meeting with Chairman Mao, as he is overlooking the hugely impressive Tian'anmen Square. Together with huge flocks of Chinese tourists, we witness the flag lowering ceremony as the invisible sun sets over Beijing – and decide to call it a day.

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Three hours after the start of this brilliant bicycle ride we make our way back to base camp. Dodging the swelling waves of commuter traffic and zig zagging back on iPhone generated directions, we zap back through the Beijing of today: the enormous Russian district, an orange-themed Lamborghini showroom and a Tron-esque ring road infarction. 

It's the white against the red this time. Hard to choose sides.

- Geert.

HUTONG WALK

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The famous Hutong walks were already topic, but exploring never stops. The basic color in this level is grey but there is so much more although it is not clean and tidy. Actually you can- in contrast to the newly high-rise buildings- feel the vibes of living here in the Hutongs.

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- Fab.

798 ONE

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One can walk into any international book store at our local railway station and grab an affordable Taschen book to have a view on art now! A full pack of images, a perspective  on the world. Right now, we are in Beijing and tell our cabbie to take us to the art district. This is 798, a time zone out of the ordinary, a formally industrial complex that houses the creative spirits of China.

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We will come back several times to soak up the energy, look and enjoy, getting in contact with the east. An endless area full of content and in between some good lunch opportunities. Mao is an icon and a missile at the same time. Temples are yesterday, this is the present. Unfinished business, we need more days to grasp the picture of this wonderful place.

-Matt.

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ONION SKINS

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Peeling of the onion skins in a Chinese kitchen. We are just visitors. How much can we see, how close can we get? Two weeks in China. This is our perspective, trying to understand this unknown culture. Big to small, the hutongs are the maximum level we can reach in this Tetris game, trying to stack the eastern building blocks onto each other.

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Impressions. Within the scale of the city, the hutongs are the very atoms of society. Behind the walls of those small alleys there is some quantum mechanics going on. Every now and then you get a glimpse of that next level, the next onion skin, the neutrons that tie together the social network. Children chalk their dreams on walls, people sell their heritage as souvenirs.

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For outsiders, this is the picture of China we can deal with. A scheme that fits into our slide show. It is also a view on the country that disappears as things move on. Modernity is a monster that bites itself into the city's core. Come back within a couple of years and things will look totally different.

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Hutongs were yesterday, the future is bright. Once a Golf MK I was an old junker, today it is a classic. Will those hutongs survive the speed of change?  Berlin Mitte is hip for tourists, for locals it is sooo 2005. We are just visitors, trying to spot the Prenzes, and the Kreuzbergs of Beijing. No chance. These are the onion skins one can only peel of as a local or an "alien visitor" that has managed to open a bank account, acquired a driving license and so on. Good luck to our hosts. Show us the Neu Koeln of your capital!

-Matt.

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JINGHSAN PARK

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Beijing, days full of urban visual input, time out please. It is cloudy and a hot thickening layer of smog crawls across the skyline of the city. Jinghsan Park turns out to be the right spot to relax. High above the Forbidden City we get some fresh air as the fantastic panorama unfolds. Freshly painted temples, an oasis of nature in the epicenter of the storm called Beijing.

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I have learned that here there are many shades of red, each with an own meaning. Today we will witness many of them. A walk through the stretched parks, up to the next landmark. The locals dance, paint poems with water on pavements. A mental slow motion in a hectic city.

-Matt.

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MUNICH

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I have been here before. A couple of months ago the Haus der Kunst in Munich was the starting point of the Pass Masters '11. Back then it was the setting for a rainy breakfast, today I come back for some culture. A mellow "indian Summer" sunday. No car culture, or maybe a little bit? 

We start with the Goetz Sammlung, located in the revamped basement of the complex. Video installations in tight rooms that once functioned as bomb safe hide outs for the locals. One short movie after the other, surrounded by thick concrete walls.

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The reason we are here is the main exhibition upstairs. Carlo Mollino. Architect, dandy, furniture designer, inventor, photographer, alpine junkie and speed freak. A room full of original sketches, prototypes and pictures. No cameras please. Nevertheless very inspiring. Downstairs in the foyer the vehicle is a fusion between motor cycle and car. An architect joining the 24 hours of Le Mans. Somehow a da Vinci of the 20th century. Go visit!

On our way back a final look at the Eisbach surfers. Locals looking for the ultimate cut back, riding an endless perfect wave. 

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