Timo de Rijk, the Premsela Chair in Design Cultures at VU University Amsterdam, explores Dutch design icons from cassette tapes to Chinese restaurants in six special episodes of the TV show Kunstuur. The AVRO broadcasting company is airing the "Design Iconen" episodes, created with Premsela, every Saturday from 20 October through 24 November. After broadcast, they can be viewed on the Kunstuur website.
Episode 1: The city bike
Saturday 20 October
The familiar black cycles you see on every city street in the Netherlands aren't indigenous products – they’re perfect examples of the British safety bike. By around 1900, however, the model was so set that additions like brakes, different speeds and lights did little to change the overall look. It was Dutch manufacturers who emphatically refrained from improving on it for most of the 20th century. From our modern innovation-biased perspective, this might seem odd, but in fact it was a clever marketing strategy. Makers promoted the Dutch bike as a true original whose perfection and quality needed no improvement and disparaged foreign cycles as inferior. Abroad, Dutch bikes might have been seen as heavy and clumsy, but here they were considered solid and indestructible. Lightweight aluminium bikes from France were criticised for their showy, fragile gears.
Episode 2: Andries Copier's round vase
Saturday 27 October
Is a sphere design? Can making one count as an artistic achievement? For designer Andries Copier (1901–1991), creator of geometrically shaped household objects, it did. In the early 20 century, stark shapes were unusual in the applied arts; the maker’s personal touch was considered of primary importance. But Copier’s daringness in using the sphere's pure form in his 1928 vase, with no artistic additions, was precisely what gave it its cultural legitimacy. In the same period, he also made cylindrical and cubic vases, as well as the simple Gilde glassware set, which became famous and part of numerous Dutch homes.
Episode 3: Chinese restaurants
Saturday 3 November
In the 1950s and ’60s in the Netherlands, steak, green beans and boiled potatoes slowly started to make way for more exotic fare: Chinese food. The new restaurants made things easy for their clientele by adapting dishes to the local palate and putting a few Indonesian items on the menu. Soon, they were part of the Dutch landscape, especially in the suburbs, where they appealed to young families. Eventually, Chinese-Indonesian restaurants established themselves in every provincial town and village, sharing a distinctive look that appeared to have been created by agreement.
Episode 4: Philips' Compact Cassette
Saturday 10 November
Philips invented the Compact Cassette as an easy-to-use audio carrier for secretaries and journalists. But young people quickly realised cassette recorders were great for copying songs off the radio. In response, Philips quickly put out a simple, cheap, one-button tape machine. Later, cassette players were installed in cars. Philips’ decision not to demand payment from other manufacturers left the way clear for the cassette to become a standard international format. Its audio quality might not have been great, but its user-friendliness and affordability made the Compact Cassette a worldwide hit.
Episode 5: Wim Crouwel’s New Alphabet
Saturday 17 November
The graphic designer Wim Crouwel, born in 1928, represents the other side of the 1960s. As Amsterdam filled up with provos and hippies and their somewhat nostalgic social ideals, Crouwel continued to believe in technological progress in the service of a new and better world. He also continued to believe in functional design, problem-solving and an immaculate visual style. In 1967, he designed the New Alphabet – a typeface before its time. Consisting of letters and numbers created completely out of horizontal and vertical lines, it resembled a computer font avant la lettre.
Episode 6: Marcel Wanders’ Knotted Chair
Saturday 24 November
Marcel Wanders designed the Knotted Chair in 1996. But is this surreal design a chair or a work of art? Or is it the perfect marriage between the two? Whatever you call it, it's already become a classic. The chair resulted from an unusual invitation issued to Wanders by Droog Design to undertake a design collaboration with Delft University of Technology’s aircraft engineers.