Design Academy Eindhoven 2012 29.02.12

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A set of euro notes illustrated with drawings depicting the weaknesses of our monetary system is, perhaps, the most timely of Design Academy Eindhoven's graduation projects this year.

The drawings – which portray issues such as obsolescence, greed and the relationship between high GDP and depression (depicted by a man free-falling from a building) – meld seamlessly into the existing euro designs, which means that the notes could enter the system unnoticed and be "disseminated by the very system they criticise", says their designer Michael Kluver.

This year has been one of cuts, riots and the eurozone crisis, but Kluver's Reasons to Rethink is one of few projects that attempt to critique the political and economic problems we face. "It's, perhaps, too big a topic," says Anne Mieke Eggenkamp, the academy's chair, explaining why more students did not tackle these themes. "And it's too early for design students to see what the effect of all this is."

Still, a general shift in attitudes is visible in the graduates' work. There were fewer conceptual and narrative-led pieces than usual, says Eggenkamp, while "reality" was the important word. "We can't be pretentious about what the students can solve," she says. "We tell them early: you can't solve the water problem in Africa." Nevertheless, social awareness is now high on the curriculum.

Massoud Hassani's Mine Kafon, a wind-powered land mine clearance device – which has garnered huge excitement since its Milan Furniture Fair debut – is without doubt this year's stand-out piece. Made of bamboo sticks exploding out of a plastic centre with an integrated GPS device, it rolls over the land, deactivating mines and keeping check of clean paths. The designer hopes the product, which is cheap and easy to assemble, will help small communities in his native Afghanistan claim back land that is out of bounds at present.

Elsewhere, it is clear that environmental sensibilities are so ingrained in the way this generation thinks that products are sustainable by default. And it is not about showing off with "green" innovations or technologies – many of the products favour a more primitive approach to issues such as energy saving. Bastiaan Hemmes' Evaporation Cooler is typical of this. Based on the "pot-in-pot fridge" used in parts of Africa, he placed one terracotta pot inside another and separated them with a layer of wet sand. "The porous earthenware absorbs the water and sweats, so to speak," says Hemmes. As the water evaporates, the contents cool – with no electricity needed.

Similarly simple was Tom Dissel's Hang On chair. When he discovered that large furniture chains used leather as wrapping material, he set about designing a chair that made leather integral to its structure, folding the material around a frame he designed. "[The leather] plays a leading role instead of being secondary to the design," he says.

Researching the system within which a product sits is fundamental to the way designers think now. "It's not about designing a shawl – it's about the system around it," Eggenkamp says, citing Roland Pieter Smit's wool blankets as an example. Smit designed looms suited to workers with physical disabilities. "Autistic people can work with very thin yarn, while those with Down's syndrome prefer to work with thicker yarn," he says. The aesthetic of the blanket, therefore, depends on the skills of the worker.

But for all the practical solutions, there are still moments of poetry. Monique Habraken's Pinhole Window View looks back with nostalgia to the origins of image making. Using the pinhole principle, she painted light-sensitive emulsion onto a curtain at the back of a room, and used a tiny hole in the window as the light source. The result is a ghostly shadow of a room – a moment – permanently formed on the curtain, she says, "to suggest a moment which has passed and to make it tangible".

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Design Academy Eindhoven

 

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Anna Bates

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There were fewer conceptual and narrative-led pieces than usual, while "reality" was the important word

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