From the late 1980s, design from the Netherlands achieved worldwide renown under the label ‘Dutch Design’. But how much of the history of design from the Netherlands do we remember in 2018? What will we save for the future, and what will be forgotten? Why? Who will decide, and based on what criteria?
The legacy of Dutch design has been a topic of debate for many years now, particularly in relation to the lack of a nationally or otherwise centrally organised archive providing a home for the source material of Dutch design and Dutch digital culture, and making this available to a wider audience. A state archive, such as exists for Architecture and Urban Planning (housed in Het Nieuwe Instituut and a leading example of its kind worldwide), does not exist for design and digital culture. There are design archives where professionals have painstakingly filtered, organised and opened up the source material – but these are few. The lion’s share of our design heritage is scattered among design studios and held by large numbers of businesses, museums, schools and (private) collectors. Sketches, prototypes, colour samples, diagrams, catalogues, letters, sources of inspiration: all valuable resources which in everyday practice is soon replaced by new inspiration and new sketches. Many of these individual fragments end up on a hard drive or in a file, in the attic or in rented storage. The collective memory of the design sector seems to be a hotchpotch of scattered remnants – sometimes neatly organised, but more often extremely disorganised. That material which is lucky enough to be retained is seldom accessible.
Following on from various previous initiatives, the time is ripe for a new, powerful impulse – as was also recently demonstrated by the memorandum ‘Culture in an Open Society’ in which Minister of Education, Culture & Science Ingrid van Engelshoven again underlines the importance of cultural heritage. Through the temporary nature of Speculative Design Archive, Het Nieuwe Instituut will investigate potential solutions to this broadly felt desire to safeguard our Dutch design heritage. The Speculative Design Archive will stress the potential of archives as a source of knowledge and inspiration for the ongoing development of the various disciplines within design and for attempting to involve crucial actors in this exploration: from central government, heritage institutions and the design community to local government and the general public.
Organisation within the space
The spatial layout of the Speculative Design Archive will follow the entire archiving process. From the Storage on the top level, the route will lead down past the Study Depot to the Showroom. Along the way, various aspects of the process will be examined: from acquisition and storage to the cataloguing and description of the items; from the reconstruction of their origins and determination of their value to a discussion of their significance.
On the ground floor, in the Showroom, wide-ranging interpretations of the various archives and archive forms can be found. These form a living backdrop to the public programme Speculative Design Archive Live!. Here, the general public and specialists can meet to think about the form and significance ;of such a future collection. This exchange of ideas naturally leads back to the top – to the Storage . And again to the question: what should we keep to ensure we don’t forget the history of design from the Netherlands? And how should we make use of this memory?
Compilation and Selection
The principal idea behind the Speculative Design Archive is that a formal infrastructure, such as exists for architecture, need not be the only solution. An informal structure could also provide a home for orphaned archives brought together through designers, businesses, schools, collectors and heirs. Approached from the perspective of the discipline of design, such a collection could be created – with space for archival items produced by Droog Design or MVRDV, in addition to recent estates in the digital domain – to give an impression of what a national design archive could be. An interesting aspect for discussions with the experts is the question of the extent to which a strictly discipline-based approach to such an archive may in fact not be desirable. It is in any event important that the archive represents the breadth of the sector; both in terms of a broad range of design fields and attitudes, and in terms of different generations.
Within this context, the archive acts not only as a permanent repository, but will above all prove its worth if it is able to generate new knowledge, as was the case with previous activities by the institute (for example, New Archive Interpretations, 1:1 Period Rooms, Finders Keepers). Particularly now, with so much urgency being devoted within the design sector to new models of design, creation, distribution and use, a reliable memory in the form of an archive – however informal – would be of crucial importance. If you want to design the future, you must know the past.
The Speculative Design Archive is being created in cooperation with a versatile network of formal and informal archives, archive creators and custodians, and a wide range of heritage institutions. The team from Het Nieuwe Instituut worked closely with design historian Job Meihuizen on the selections for the archive. Studio Veronica Ditting and photographer Tim Elkaim collaborated on the graphic identity and visual campaign. The spatial design of the exhibition was developed by Roel Huisman with Bart van Merode.