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Design appears unmoored from its roots. Where the 20th century gave design a clear ethical objective to industrially produce objects for the benefit of society at large, it now seems dispersed and co-opted by varying market, political, and aesthetic forces. Yet historically the term “design” has been in constant evolution, from the formation of abstract intentions to the concrete act of form-making and back. Today, the role of the designer as entrepreneur is particularly heightened by economic precarity. Do present-day practitioners share a physical and conceptual heritage, or is design increasingly becoming an imperative towards self-design in an age of increasing circulation and networks?

Because inspiration often comes from unexpected places, in this Reading Room we shift our gaze to activities that may not be recognised as design but possibly are.

Lucas Verweij talked about the relationship between design and industrial production in the twentieth century and then explore how the term ‘design’ has been stretched over the years. He considered the original meaning of design, which has nothing to do with industry and more to do with ‘purposefully working towards a result’.

Today we find ourselves in the unusual situation in which the people we would have called ‘designers’ prior to the industrial revolution are now considered technicians, managers or entrepreneurs, while the contemporary ‘designer’ faces entirely different challenges and opportunities. Despite this shift, design education still follows the industrial model.

This Reading Room explored the insights that can be drawn from these developments. The evening was moderated by Tamar Shafrir. Dave Hakkens and Helen Kranstauber (Food Cabinet) took part in this evening as respondents.

Denarrating Design

In response to the discussion of the Reading Room, Denarrating Design by Vincent Thornhill and Erik Vlemmix extracts words from the narrative flow of conversation and subjects them to image search, creating a high-resolution visual context for what design means according to universal databases.

Reading Room

The Reading Room is a series of evening exploring contemporary forms of reading. It is a place to decipher and interpret the world with its countless languages, signs and systems, including ideas and things that are hard to identify, let alone read. Guided by a researcher, designer or scholar, a small audience will reflect upon a text, a design, an object or a series of images. Reading Room is a space for intimate, provocative conversations.

Design Platform Rotterdam - Lucas Verweij

Designplatform Rotterdam aims to contribute to a stimulating design climate in and around Rotterdam. It organises debates, workshops, design competitions and events. Lucas Verweij cofounded Designplatform Rotterdam with Jeroen Deckers and Willem Kars. He is a designer and design critic and lives and works in Berlin.

Dave Hakkens

Dave Hakkens graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven in 2013 with his project Phonebloks, an idea for a modular smartphone. Each function in his smartphone has its own ‘block’, which can be replaced independently of other parts. Hakkens’ aim is to reduce the amount of electronic waste that is generated. Phonebloks is currently at the concept stage. Another of Hakkens’ projects is the Precious Plastic Project. This is an open-source community which make plastic recycling using DIY machines accessible to all.

Helen Kranstauber

Helen Kranstauber is co-founder of Food Cabinet, a project office specialised in food issues. Kranstauber has a background in Biology and Environment & Resource Management and is one of the founders of the Food Film Festival. She used to work for the Centre for Agriculture and the Environment (CLM) in the Netherlands and was on the board of the Youth Food Movement. Although not trained as a designer, she operates in fields where creativity, innovation and design play a major role.

In partnership with Design Platform Rotterdam

20:00 – 22:00

Het Nieuwe Instituut
Museumpark 25
3015 CB Rotterdam


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Thursday Night at Het Nieuwe Instituut
Luca Napoli

Thursday Night Live! is a weekly programme of lectures, screenings and discussions on architecture, design and digital culture. Developments and critical insights are discussed by thinkers, designers and makers from the Netherlands and abroad.