WDE Spotlight: The Night Club

In WDE Spotlight, we give the floor to various designers from the Embassies. This time we talk to Jaap Warmenhoven and Marjolein Vermeulen, founders of De Nacht Club and part of the Embassy of Safety in 2021. What is their background? What inspires them? What do they hope to achieve with their work? You can read it in this Q&A!

Type Update
Published on 19 May 2022
Part of Embassy of Safety
WDE Spotlight: The Night Club
Part of Embassy of Safety

Can you tell us a bit more about yourself, your background and your design practice?

We’re Jaap Warmenhoven and Marjolein Vermeulen, the initiators of The Night Club

Jaap: ‘I was trained as a political scientist/administrator. I’ve worked for fifteen years at the consultancy firm Twynstra Gudde. Part-time; in addition, I was and am a musician and performer. I sought out ways for these two worlds to benefit each other. The worlds of the day and the night, you could say. I began establishing collaborations between artists, designers and my clients with the local and national government. The term ‘social design’ increasingly comes up as a term for what I do: creating contexts, and making room for new ways of thinking and acting. I was present for the start of what’s now the Social Design Department at Twynstra Gudde. I’ve had my own social design practice, Matching Futures for three years. Sometimes working on a strategic level, and sometimes as a maker within neighbourhoods or organisations. Preferably at the same time, that’s what I like most.

Marjolein: I was trained as a designer at the art academy in Rotterdam. Together with Myrthe Veeneman, I’ve been operating the design studio MV design for seventeen years now. I’ve also always lectured, first at The Hague University of Applied Sciences, and I’ve been affiliated with the Willem de Kooning Academy for over twelve years. I work for organisations with a social mission; that began with concept development for interactive platforms and digital innovations. Always through co-creation. In recent years, as a social designer, I’ve been more involved in governmental participation and change processes, such as the Environment Act and the energy transition. I began working with organisational consultants, including Jaap. Not only did I discover how powerful it is to develop relevant concepts but also that a new perspective is required to change things. For me, The Night Club provides a fresh perspective on how to work on the safety of a neighbourhood. 

Your project was part of the Embassy of Safety during Dutch Design Week 2021. What can you tell us about this project, and which stage is it in now? 

The Night Club is, in essence, a simple design. What happens when you move the interactions of residents and professionals from day to night? And begin exploiting the night for its qualities: intimacy, candour, tension, open-ended thinking, and space for what is possible. Many organisations and neighbourhoods need these qualities, but they’re stuck in their daily routines. It was great to present The Night Club at the Embassy of Safety. We had perhaps a hundred conversations. At one point, we really couldn’t even hear ourselves saying the slogan ‘safe places for unsafe ideas’ (veilige plekken voor onveilige onderwerpen). Over the past few months, the challenge has been to somehow convert all the enthusiasm among the partners, residents and newly interested parties — from all kinds of local authorities and NGOs — into a movement. The form we found to make this happen is the Night Club Academy. Together with all those people, you learn how to foster candid encounters and, in your work, how to really forge a relationship with the people you’re doing it for; truly wanting to get to know them. The Night Club Academy started on April 1st with a very nice gathering. What we really enjoy is seeing all those various forms of knowledge come together. The daily knowledge of the community police officer, the expertise of two legendary (actual) nightclub owners from Rotterdam, an expert in the psychology of safety, a theatre-maker who wrote a play about lying awake and our desire for connection.

In this project, you’ll be discussing the unsafe ideas/topics that keep residents and professionals up at night. Is safety something you enjoy working on? And if so, why?

Safety isn’t entirely tangible; it’s linked to so many aspects of life: on both the individual and the collective level. But it’s also linked to trusting yourself and others, your environment, the government and other institutions. More cameras, better street lighting, cracking down on crime help only partially, and sometimes counterproductively. A space is made safe by people working together. We see that a lack of safety is linked to the erosion of public and social values. This sometimes leads to indefinable feelings of fear, loneliness and a lower quality of life in neighbourhoods. This can be further reinforced if people retreat inwards and stop taking collective responsibility. As social designers, the perception of safety is an interesting topic for us. One mechanism that fascinates us is that unsafe behaviour, daring to do something that you normally would not, can lead to one feeling more safe and secure. 

You both have been active with The Night Club project for a while. Have you received any positive reactions so far? 

We’re experiencing a significant amount of enthusiasm. That enthusiasm is partly owing to the night. She’s our co-designer; she does most of the work. There’s something attractive about the night. The realisation that we’re biased by our day-to-day thinking — like delimiting, analysing, objectifying, project-based execution — I think that’s something that many people, especially in policy organisations, understand that, well — it should at least be supplemented with night-time thinking and acting. Where things become more fluid and flow into one another, where there’s room to manoeuvre. Many people long for that room to manoeuvre, and many feel it’s necessary. Systems make mistakes, sometimes big ones.

What was the main premise of the project?  

That was fairly simple at the beginning. We spotted an immense void. Literally, that is, outside in the Reyeroord District in South Rotterdam, where we started. And figuratively, in the non-existent relationships among the residents and in the relationships with the municipality, the police and other organisations in the neighbourhood. We set up The Night Club at the centre of that void. On a dog field in the middle of the neighbourhood.

They're learning things that would otherwise be left unsaid. We see their attitude changing. There's more and more space for this way of thinking, which lies at the heart of social design: starting with residents' perception.
— Jaap Warmenhoven en Marjolein Vermeulen

The Night Club got its start in Rotterdam South. Have you seen any changes between the residents and the safety of these neighbourhoods? And if so, how did that manifest itself? 

In the meantime, we’ve held seven Night Clubs in Reyeroord. And we see all kinds of things happening there. Residents are increasingly taking the initiative to organise things themselves. And they’re truly experiencing The Night Club as a place where they can reinvent themselves. Like Judella, who’s realising her dream of having a food truck. And Faith, aged 17, wants to live in a neighbourhood where people say hello to one another. Judella’s food and Faith’s campfire brought people together during the latest Night Club. Young people began talking about things like their need to be able to walk the streets safely. The prejudices that a hoodie unleashes. We work well with community officers, civil servants involved in the neighbourhood and other neighbourhood professionals. They like to come to The Night Club. They’re able to establish new relationships with residents and other professionals. They use The Night Club: the community police officer who, after a violent incident, can talk to neighbourhood residents much more easily because he knows people from The Night Club. Civil servants tell us that they better understand what motivates people. They also say that they’re starting conversations with people differently, unforced. They’re learning things that would otherwise be left unsaid. We see their attitude changing. There’s more and more space for this way of thinking, which lies at the heart of social design: starting with residents’ perception.

Do you have plans to further expand The Night Club into other cities, and why? 

Teams from various cities are participating in The Night Club Academy. At the beginning of April, we held a kick-off meeting with teams from Roosendaal, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Ghent. There’s a good deal of interest. The Academy responds to the questions that come from various municipalities. In one neighbourhood, there are problems with young people and image, in another, single mothers do not dare to leave the house, in a third there is much tension between old and new residents. In any case, many social issues are ultimately felt at neighbourhood level.

What kind of design/project would you like to realise in the future and why?

Hey, good question. Well, which seems very nice to me (Jaap). This night-time thinking suits us well, and also me as a night owl, musician and lover of the night. At the moment, we’re primarily concerned with neighbourhoods. In the future, I would like to set up a Night Club at a large public organisation that could use more night-time thinking and intimacy. The Tax and Customs Administration, perhaps. We see The Night Club as a space where new relationships can emerge. I would like to set up in a place like that. We see The Night Club as a space for seekers, a place where new relationships can arise. I’d like to provide that space in a place like that.

Can you name another interesting designer dealing with the same theme, and why is their work so strong in your view? 

There are many! The Night Club Academy is a beautiful framework because it gives us the opportunity to connect with them. I don’t know if they all see themselves as social designers. Writer and theatre-maker Marjolijn van Heemstra writes beautifully about the night and, with her ‘Night Watch’ piece, she’s also working on spreading nocturnal qualities, stillness, delay, an awareness of our place in the universe. A bit more on the psychological side, but also with many similarities. Theatre-maker Sanne Nouws created a piece about lying awake, inspired by Kae Tempest’s beautiful play ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’. Sanne opened The Night Club Academy with a scene from her play ‘Storm Voor Wie Wakker Is’. Ted Langenbach and Pietra Ligura are fantastic (night-time) social designers. We spoke to Dorian Kingma who, in collaboration with people from the Performance Bar, researched various forms of a daze on DDW21.

How do you think you can make an impact with your work?

Impacts can be made in many ways, be they large or small. Striking someone with an insight, for example, that they would not have had without the connections that we make. Like the civil servant who stated, after attending a Night Club, ‘I’m experiencing what vulnerability is now, and it’s something entirely different from what we talk about in policy terms. Or using the perspective of The Night Club to make fundamental and lasting change in how local authorities and other organisations collaborate in neighbourhoods. To us, the Academy appears to be a nice structure for working on all those large and small ways to have an impact, together with The Night Club members, civil servants, residents, community police officers, entrepreneurs, etcetera.

Who would you choose and why if you could choose one person to work with (a scientist, artist, philosopher, biologist, designer, politician, anyone)? 

Jaap: Brian Eno. He’s a great musical innovator and the founder of The Long Now: a movement for practical future-oriented thinking and acting. 

Marjolein: Miranda July. Filmmaker, performer, writer. Her project ‘Learning to love you more’ has been a major inspiration for how I work. She knows how to depict vulnerability and discomfort in a very loving and humane way and make space for them.

For/with which company would you most like to do a project? And what kind of project would that be?

We already mentioned the example of the tax authorities. We think that, given its image, the EU could use a Night Club. Daytime bias is everywhere. Now, as The Night Club, we’re not anti-day. We’re happy with the practical day-to-day soberness of many civil service organisations. But we’d also grant them a Night Club.

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