Looking back on World Design Embassies 2019

This is the seventh and final longread about the World Design Embassies 2019. The embassies were part of Dutch Design Week 2019. In the first 6 episodes, we’ve talked to those involved in the embassies about the challenges they face, and the solutions they envision for future societies. Think climate change, urbanization, the increasing use of technology in our lives – where is it all leading, and how can we shape our society around those things in a positive, meaningful way?

Type Update
Published on 10 December 2019
Looking back on World Design Embassies 2019
Part of

Storymap: Explore the six locations of WDE 2019

In this episode, we’ll be taking a look back at Dutch Design Week 2019. What was on offer? What connections were made? And how were people inspired?

But first, a little background. Marianne Aarnoudse is the programme manager of World Design Embassies at Dutch Design Foundation. She and her team already started out developing the world design embassies program in 2017. “And originally, the idea was to create a world design expo with countries presenting their best designs. But when developing the concept, we realized that countries and cities all struggle with the same challenges and issues like climate change, health, mobility, and so on. So realizing that, we decided that it would be much more interesting and valuable to organize these embassies around themes on those societal issues.”

Marianne Aarnoudse - programme manager WDE, photo by Oscar Vinck

And that’s exactly what happened. Moreover, World Design Embassies connects government and market-driven organizations with designers to find new perspectives. “To learn from each other, share ideas and best practices and, in some cases, really experiment and develop a concept together.”

Designers are mainly focused on the human approach instead of more technology, Marianne says. “They are able to visualize these ideas and concepts that make it tangible to people, and enable them to understand and relate to it. This human-centred approach focuses more on what people need and what structurally improves their life.”

It also provides organizations with space and opportunity to take risks they wouldn’t otherwise take.

“They seem to have a more open mind and are more willing to cooperate together, because it’s not like they have to be there, but they choose to be there.”

For each of the embassies, there’s no blueprint for how they should work – the only common ground is that each tries to answer important societal questions: what is our relationship with water, for example. Is safety a right? And during Dutch Design Week, the embassies provided insight into how they were tackling those questions. In expositions, workshops, lectures and debates, the story of these important themes was told – and brought one step further.

Embassy of Circular & Biobased Building

The heart of each Dutch Design Week is Ketelhuisplein – a vast, outdoor space that is transformed into an open-air exhibition. And this year, it was dominated by the Embassy of Circular & Biobased Building.

The Embassy of Circular & Biobased building focused on the challenges in the field of building and how we can make that more sustainable, using circular and bio-based materials. “As you may know, there is a shortage of houses in the Netherlands”, Marianne adds. “One million houses need to be built by 2030. And with the climate objectives in mind, the embassy tried to explore the question of how we can build those new houses, more energy-efficient, climate-proof, and emission friendly. We have shown that in two pavilions that focus on possible solutions. One of the pavilions was the biobasecamp, made of CLT, cross-laminated timber. It was designed by architect Marco Vermeulen.”

The pavilion is made out of columns, actually trunks of poplar wood, Marco explains. “They used to be on the verges of the highway between Eindhoven and Boxtel, but they had to be cut down because of their age. We used them as the base of the pavilion. The deck on top of it is made out of cross-laminated timber. So you see the original resource, they had the tree, the trunk, and you see the potential at the same time.” The pavilion itself was the place for exhibitions on biobased building.

Biobasecamp, photo by Oscar Vinck

The Pavilion was massive, the deck supported by the crisscrossed poplar trunks. People wandered up and down its stairs all week, testing its sturdiness, and enjoying its aesthetic qualities. “I hope that a lot of people got acquainted with the material and will now also understand the potential, so a certain demand for this material would develop because every economy starts also with a demand for something.”

Right next to the biobasecamp was the other Circular & Biobased pavilion, made by Company New Heroes. It was called “The Growing Pavilion”, it was made of mycelium, which is a mushroom material. “It was a beautiful pavilion, showing that this bio-based material can also be applied on a larger scale than has been shown before” Marianne recalls. “It really attracted a lot of visitors and a lot of interest from all kinds of people visiting Dutch Design Week.” Lucas de Man, as the curator, was amazed by the reactions of the public: “Visitors wanted to touch it and know more, and the technical people were amazed at how far we got it technically. So both the professionals and the crowd are pleased so we are as well.”

More about the Embassy of Circular & Biobased Building

The Growing Pavilion, photo by Oscar Vinck

The Embassy of Health

Across Ketelhuisplein, the embassy of health also attracted a lot of visitors. Its exhibition was filled with interesting takes on healthcare and sparked some intense discussions. “The long-term theme of this embassy is chronic health”, Marianne explains. “The question was what would happen if we all were chronically healthy?”

One of the projects was called “who’s in charge?” It questioned whether you can trust a robot more than a surgeon. Marianne: “Now, a robot is more like an instrument of the surgeon. But what would happen if the robot becomes more autonomous? They’re able to operate much more precise than a human, they don’t make the human mistakes, they never get tired.” Visitors were asked to answer the question who would they prefer to do their surgery, and who would be responsible if something goes wrong. “They were really involved, they even started to discuss with other people at the exhibition. People really engaged in the subject.”

VIMS by Adi Hollander, photo by Cleo Goossens

Engagement is key at Dutch Design Week. Curator Jetske van Oosten and designer Frank Kolkman say that the crucial question in healthcare now is: what does care mean?

“A large part in the exhibition is to represent the experience of the end-user within a care system”, Frank explains. “We often talk about the big systems and how they function or don’t function, but actually the experience of having to go to a healthcare institution is a very human thing.” As an example, Frank points at the installation called ‘Iye’, by Pim Boreel. “He is reflecting on an issue of meningitis that he’s had in his childhood. And, as a result of that, it has affected his sight. So he created an audiovisual installation that tries to represent this. I think it’s a really good way of visualizing the impact that a health care issue can have on someone.”

More about the Embassy of Health


The Embassy of Sustainable Design

One of the largest embassies this year was the Embassy of Sustainable Design, whose focus was not just on using sustainable materials. Marianne: “This is the embassy where many large companies learned that we are in a transition process that requires finding new ways to collaborate, to develop new and more circular business models. And they also acknowledged that designers have an important role and responsibility in this process as they are at the beginning of it all: by producing more circular and sustainable products.”

Embassy of Sustainable Design 2019, photo by Britt Roelse

One of the things visitors could do at the Embassy of Sustainable Design was enter a kind of labyrinth, designed by ARTez Institute of the Arts. By answering 4 questions, visitors could design their own (virtual) t-shirt. By choosing a material, the method, the colouring and the afterlife, they were told how sustainable their choices actually were. There’s not an option for 100% sustainability, but the process made people aware of the options.

More about the Embassy of Sustainable Design


The Embassy of Water

On the other side of Eindhoven, at the former Campina dairy factory, the theme was water. And how we take it for granted. The main question of this embassy was to find out how we can create a more circular way to using water and also what solutions can be found to improve the quality of our water. Anouk van der Poll, the curator of this embassy, directly linked 8 designers to concrete questions of the embassy’s partners. The designers started to work on topics varying from finding new ways to put rainwater to use for example, for flushing your toilet, tackling medicine waste in water or create more awareness with consumers about the way we take tap water for granted.

Channeling Well by Atelier Axel, photo by Oscar Vinck

Theresa van Dongen worked on a project to decouple rainpipes. “In the city, so much water is flowing away from our roofs, it is drained away through the pipe into the sewer while 10 meters further there’s a park and trees that are thirsty. So I created Tubey which is a kind of watering system with 4 watering cans which are on your wall – so when it’s raining these 4 cans will fill up and the next morning you can use them to water a few plants that need some extra or something in your home and it’s just simple and playful. You see the water flowing which has a nice effect – and it’s just ready to use. The project is related to extreme weather that we can expect with climate change, with heavier rain and droughts.”

Photo by Oscar Vinck

Curator Anouk van der Poll also has a grander idea. The site of the former milk factory will be turned into a residential area, and she hopes the Embassy of Water can play a role as well. “My goal is that the ideas of the designers can maybe be used in this new area. So we can actually create a decentralized purification plant in the centre of this new living area and to have people look at water in a different way and take more care of it.”

More about the Embassy of Water


The Embassy of Safety

Back on Ketelhuisplein, in a series of buildings with one-way glass, the embassy of safety was busy making the general public aware of how they can be involved in societal security. “The embassy of safety concentrated this year on crime undermining our societies’ foundations, by criminals using all the legitimate systems and services”, Marianne says. “And in this perspective, the embassy researched the question ‘Is safety a right?’ and explored how the attitude of people can be changed towards becoming aware that safety is a result of joint efforts and shared responsibility. And in the summer before Dutch Design Week, VNG initiated a ‘what if lab’ where three teams of designers worked on concrete safety issues that were brought to the table by municipalities from all over the Netherlands.”

Embassy of Safety, photo by Cleo Goossens

One of the key themes within the Embassy of Safety is drug use. Curator Tabo Goudsward is convinced that if more people knew about the role they play in the manufacturing of drugs, they’d think twice about buying them. And he wants to show them. “We have been showing the research of the Trimbos Institute on how youngsters see themselves within this drug chain. And one of the insights was that if they feel that they are contributing to environmental pollution, that could be an incentive to not use drugs. So we had an installation, an immersive room in which they are showing the effects and failures, it’s called the ‘Drugs Dump Tour’. The facts and the figures are shown in a very immersive way.”

More about the Embassy of Safety


The Embassy of Mobility

The Embassy of Mobility drew a lot of attention to itself as well. A train announcer called visitors inside, as she commented on passing vehicles, asking us to consider what mobility could mean in the future. “Funny enough, this embassy didn’t show any vehicles and it wasn’t about mobility as a surface, which is one of the main topics” Marianne looks back.  The embassy partners took another focus on mobility in the perspective of the livability of cities and villages. And during the week, the pavilion was a lively place where expert designers, policymakers and professionals gathered to discuss many aspects of mobility. For instance: should climate goals prevail over economic issues?”

Rob Adams - Curator of the Embassy of Mobility, Photo by Oscar Vinck

One answer comes from Dutch Railway operator NS. “While we have the targets towards 2040 – to be more accessible, to have more capacity – the challenge is already here today. People recognize the different challenges and also that the solution can no longer be delivered by 1 single party. It needs to be a joint co-creation of municipalities, local governments, companies like the Dutch railway company – all of those companies coming together to completely redesign public transportation and to deliver a solution towards the mobility problem that we have.”

Looking back on World Design Embassies, Marianne sees lots of interest from many people and groups. “It was a good way to connect all those people and start building more like communities around the themes so we can have a new starting point for developing the embassies for the next years. We are searching for the coalition of the willing. Partners that are willing to work together in open innovation or an open cooperation model. Who are willing to share their knowledge and the ideas they already have. And of course, partners who value the input that designers can bring to the process.”

More about the Embassy of Mobility


What will the future bring?

The 2019 embassies have been removed from their temporary places in Eindhoven. What does Marianne Aarnoudse hope for the embassies in the future? “Of course, there are always new themes and more urgent questions to be answered. What we hope for is that, in the end, parties that now participate in the embassies, will be involving designers in their processes, so they don’t need the embassy construction anymore to use that approach of designers in developing new perspectives and new solutions.”

This final episode of our series on the World Design Embassies 2019 is also available as a podcast.

Listen to the podcast on Soundcloud

The World Design Embassies are a programme of the Dutch Design Foundation, and work year-round with partners and stakeholders to look at the role that design can play in the development of new perspectives and concrete solutions to the challenges we face as a society in a quickly-changing world.

The Embassies are also a part of Dutch Design Week, where the world comes to Eindhoven to discover innovation through the eyes of designers, design thinking and design skills. During Dutch Design Week, the Embassies take on a physical form – in exhibitions, lectures, discussions and workshops – so that ideas, expertise and insight can be shared, with experts but also with the general public.

In this series, we took a look at each of the six Embassies in detail and through this, we explored the challenges and solutions for future societies.

You can check the six other episodes here, as well as more information on partners and videos related to the Embassies. Do join us next year during Dutch Design Week 2020 in Eindhoven, from October 17th until the 25th. Hope to see you there.

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