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A letter from Eindhoven

Daniela Treija

I was an Eindhovener for four years. Actually, more of a DAE-er, as in – from the Design Academy Eindhoven. This school magically embodies and fulfills various forms of routines that are significant not only to a regular design school. It was all the experiences at once! DAE provides you with a good design education, occasionally making you feel like there “ain’t no mountain high enough”, and then immediately after that, it would bring you to a place where it's cold and dark and  “You better reconsider if you really want to become a designer”. It managed to morph from being your friend into a building that represents creative suffering only; and later, it would again turn into your lover – to whom you blindly dedicate yourself every night, all night long. It never believed in your creative tears, yet sometimes hugged you like a loving mother. Here was where I went through my first “this piece of foam is bringing me towards a nervous breakdown”, and where I learned how to appreciate the power of the Design God's touch – when nothing breaks and everything goes as planned. I learned how to build my very first chair, while having a very confident design chat, and how to hitchhike a ferry to London. I discovered how to be out of the so-called “box”, how to act serious while reciting my major impact as a designer, and how to fix a broken design heart (as well as how to heal bones broken during an art performance, for that matter).

A regular sky in Eindhoven

My Eindhoven journey began in 2011. It’s important for you to know that Eindhoven is a very insignificant city. Its downtown can be crossed by foot in less than 15 minutes, but the  architectural landscape cherishes a very strong 70s essence – with a few very daring, futuristic architecture masterpieces in between (a UFO-shaped building, for example). Some of the city's dearest and most significant  heritages are – it being the cradle of the electronics giant Philips; and it is the home of PSV Eindhoven, which, according to my grandfather, is a bad-ass football team. You could call it a very efficient city, with everything you need in it – but never more than that. Here you won’t be disturbed by the kind of charm a city like Amsterdam has, with canals running through every street (Eindhoven has only one big canal – on the edge of the city), nor will you be bothered by crowds of tourists. And you definitely won’t be seeing any of those fields of tulips which, for someone who is not Dutch, are an inseparable part of the Netherlands' mental image. In Eindhoven, everything can be found just a bike-ride away, and the most vibrant it gets is on shopping-Friday, when everything closes at 8 pm instead of the usual 6 pm. And somewhere behind the newly-built Primark, next to the Blob of Eindhoven (another star in the architectural universe that is Eindhoven), hides the pride and joy of the Netherlands – the Design Academy Eindhoven.

Regular houses in Eindhoven

Already during my first weeks at DAE (which were also my first weeks of confusion as an Eindhovener), I heard rumors about how proud the school actually is about Eindhoven’s particularly insignificant vibe. Apparently, this is a great foundation for especially visionary ideas since, in this case, there is nothing else that can distract a young designer's mind. Of course, you cannot let anything interfere with your creative high! You’ll be surprised, but it took me only a few months until I started to understand the mechanisms behind this illogical paradox. By that time, in my first year, I understood that there won’t be much time for anything but school anyways. And honestly, there wasn’t much else I needed. The international student cocktail at the school brings you a very delicious feeling of living in a real metropolis. TAC (Temporary Art Center) and Sectie-C are the hottest spots in town for designer/design student workshops, but for your daily creative thirst, there was only one bar where everyone ended up every day – obviously, the one that’s closest to the school. In short, if you wanted to get the full flavor of this design institution, you had to let it swallow your big-city routine and let the school dictate it all. Being a foreign Design Academy student, you might take on some dish-washing jobs on the side to pay for your next bag of plaster, and find a corner to hide away in and work after the school's doors close at 10 pm. However, your main (actually – only!) friends and lovers are the ones from school. Soon enough, this is the only routine you seem to know, and it becomes a very comfortable one, too. You know where to find what you need, and you know how to entertain yourself in this insignificant city. But every now and then, you find yourself wandering through the streets of Rotterdam or Amsterdam, feeling like a villager who has come out of the darkness to enjoy the rush of the big city. And you are totally fine with it! A Design Academy student is at ease living his/her small-city life. The student is happy that there is only one bar to go to, only one metal scrapyard where to find cheap brass pieces, and only one laser-cut guy that laser-cuts anything (and he's called “See you laser! ”).  Just one market on Saturdays, a few second-hand stores, and only one moving guy – the “Chinese guy” – a living legend who can help you move your whole living space from one side of the city to the other for only 35 euros. But in case a Design Academy student feels too tired or trapped in his small city life, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Berlin and London are just moments away.

On the train back from Amsterdam, the teacher found two pairs of socks emblazoned with marijuana leaves / I didn't notice that the bag of plaster had ripped open while dragging it home. 

At its core, the Design Academy is a living Dutch-design dream. It reflects its mentality very well. Throughout its history, as well as currently, the heads of the school and the teachers vary from the grandmasters of Dutch design to fresh, upward-rising designers. At the end of your four-year design voyage, you get to have a Bachelor's in Design, which can then be supplemented with a Masters' degree. A few years ago, the Design Academy officially declared itself an international school, so its mother-tongue now is English. After the first year, also called the foundation year, a student gets to choose between eight design departments – a choice that could satisfy any lost design soul. These vary from very aesthetic product design (Man & Activity), to courses that question our well-being (also called Man & Well-being); from courses that deal with some sort of fashion (Man & Identity), to a department that is attempting to define the role of food in the world of design (Food non-Food). But be aware that finding a single explanation for what kind of school it is, or what all of its departments are like, won’t be easy. The interpretations are many; probably each student has his or her own, but the truth may vary. That’s why trying to explain the school to your grandparents or your neighbors usually turns into a failure. (At this very moment I turn to Zane, who is about to start her graduation project at school, and ask her if her parents know what she's doing at school. “Umm.. Kind of,” says Zane.) My Design Academy destiny lead me to Man & Communication. And no, I was not designing phones.

We would work in the living room because the school was closed during holidays

An average Design Academy student is a hard worker who enjoys challenging himself/herself in many ways. A Design Academy student has a love-and-hate relationship with the Academy, but secretly, he/she is rather excited and proud to be studying in precisely this school. The school doesn’t limit its students, but at the same time, it maintains high standards and manages to keep the inner design-fire burning in each and every one of its students. Design Academy students are taught by teachers who come from all over the world, and the student is always ready to express his or her opinion on various topics, whether global or more local. He or she is always aware of everything that’s happening around them, including the two-euro breakfast deal at HEMA (every morning until 10 am). If a Design Academy student has succeeded in not giving up on his or her design charisma after 3 ½ years, he/she is brought to the gates of the promised land – Dutch Design Week. But to get through, he has to win one last fight (or, actually, two fights) – that is, make two graduation projects.

Lawns of Eindhoven being inspiring

Once a year, during Dutch Design Week, Eindhoven’s gray and sad face magically turns into a design pilgrimage for everyone. Every designer that has been hiding in the corners and dark places of Eindhoven can now let the curtain fall! Every empty factory becomes an exhibition place for Dutch design heroes or international ones. Eindhoven suddenly becomes a place to be – concerts, exhibitions, parties, dinners, press everywhere, fancy people everywhere. But in between this euphoria, right in the center of the city, the Design Academy's Graduation Show shines bright like a diamond. The space that is usually devoted for classes and working is now magically transformed into a hip event that attracts thousands of people. And this year, I was honored to be one of the students standing there in that venue.

In the park a couple of weeks after handing in my graduation project. Sunshine, balloons, everyone is happy. Even the dog in the park is happy

Edouard attempts to understand his graduation project during the photo shoot organized by the school for the graduation project catalog

It is true that after four years of being the long-suffering student, always working and being late for something, it was a bliss to be there. I proudly showed off my graduation projects and told people about my adventures in finding fictional design pieces in movies and literature – which I then tried to bring to life – by gathering them all together into a book called Form Follows Fiction. My second project, Not Another, which highlights the most over-exposed design trends – particularly amongst online image archives – attracted a lot of attention; bloggers came to it like bees to honey. As a student, finally standing there myself, my everyday excitements, apart from the pleasure of being a graduate in the spot-light, consisted of finding somewhere to rest my feet and eat my daily sandwich. And once I had found this place in which to take a break, looking at it all from the side-lines, the scene I was in seemed almost fictional. Standing there truly felt like a real career race! Like an entertainer, each student puts on his or her best smile and tries to sell himself/herself to anybody that looks like someone who might have some sort of influence, or whoever has a press badge around his or her neck. But soon enough, the Design Academy Student figures out that not every well-dressed lady is an owner of a gallery, and that some of these ladies are just out to have a flamboyant weekend. Everyone touches everything, the crowd is infinite, and as each day goes by, every student looks more and more worn out. Despite the fact that deep inside, every single student is extremely happy and proud. And of course – DAE student finally is being found to be interesting, and even admired. 

Me, posing among my graduation projects after the Graduation Show had closed for the day

But when the lights of Design Week go off, Eindhoven's hippest event gets packed away until next year. The snow-white DAE building magically turns back into a school, one filled with hardworking students and their daily routines. After nine days, the hungover, but still standing graduate becomes a little sad. He or she is experiencing that moment when one understands that life in the secret design village has come to an end, and that no one is really planning to stay there.

An early morning in the woods after yet another endterm

The biggest secrets of Eindhoven have been all chewed out, and now the student needs to search for new ones to be chewed. You’ll say – just as everyone must after graduation. True! Although, I believe that the secret, yet very rich,  design environment of Eindhoven and its symbiosis with the lonely city results in a particularly magic aftertaste. It takes time and care to learn how to appreciate the seemingly non-existent positive aspects of Eindhoven. That's why now, when I've already moved away, I can tell that my life in this secret design village was one of the best decisions I ever made.

The trip home - full of smiles despite the early hour. Fin! 

P.S. Thanks for the pictures to Jonathan, Edouard and Lucas.


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