A Dutch Design Utopia Convenes in New York

Over two weekends, New York’s Governor’s Island will host a design bonanza curated by Droog, the grande-dame of high-concept design.

Renny Ramakers

“In New York, it isn’t dumb anymore to critique luxury,” says Renny Ramakers, while hustling across a lawn on Governor’s Island. This weekend and next, dozens of Dutch designers will descend on the site for a brain-tickling design exhibition, “Pioneers of Change.”


Curated by Ramakers, the co-founder of the pre-eminent Dutch design collective, Droog, the exhibit is part of NY400, a series of events around town sponsored by the Netherlands. Marking the 400th anniversary of the first Dutch exploration of New York, they range from bike sharing to a rare showing of a Vermeer masterpiece.

“Pioneers of Change,” occupying eleven abandoned houses on Governor’s Island, arrayed around a grass lawn, it takes up themes of sustainability and social responsibility–but unlike most design exhibits, it’s not about stuff, but about alternate visions for making things with maximum care and repairing them–that is, making things last, rather than churning through them.

“Luxury is really about scarcity,” declares Ramakers. “But what’sscarce? Care, silence, fresh air, slowness. That’s the spirit ofDroog.”Each of the eleven houses is taken over by one design group–ranging from one designer who knits rugs using four-foot knitting needles, to a Dutch collective that’s teaching visitors to repair old clothes and broken plates with clever techniques that lend a quirky beauty.

Ramakers says that the exhibition itself heralds new paths for Droog, which has long pioneered high-concept investigations of re-use–ranging from a chair made of carpet scraps, to a cabinet made of discarded drawers, lashed together. “The work in this show inspires me. The sensibility that makes sense now, and we’re going to be exploring and emphasizing these ideas in the future.”

Here’s a sneak peak of what’s on display:

The design collective Platform 21 doesn’t make anything new–rather, through workshops and a “Repair Manifesto,” they aim to teach people how to reuse what they might otherwise discard. On Governors Island, they’re giving visitors hands-on lessons in three techniques: One, invented by Heleen Klooper, for beautiful wool patches; a technique for piecing together broken tableware by Lottek Dekker, which was inspired by the ancient Japanese technique of kintsugi; and another, by Platform 21’s honcho, Arne Hendricks, where he’ll use tape, in patterns lifted from Piet Mondrian‘s paintings, to patch the house’s peeling walls.

Heleen Klooper Wool Patches

Christien Meindertsma is fresh off a huge win at the Index Awards, for her book, Pig 05049. Here, she’s showing a technique for knitting entire rugs and stools, using wool yarn as thick as your arm, and a pair of four-foot knitting needles:

Christien Meindertsma
Christien Meindertsma

The cafe, run by Marije vogelzang,, and Hansje van Halem, is intended for anything but a quick bite. Titled “Go Slow,” every single detail is meant to draw attention to the craft of making food, through intensely careful rituals. Teabags are sewn on the spot; the various foods are served out in precise amounts, proportionate to exactly how far the ingredients traveled to get to your plate; and the food itself is served by elderly New Yorkers:

Go Slow Cafe

All-star furniture designer Maarten Baas also breaks down time, into a highly choreographed ritual, with three “clock” installations. One’s a video of workers sweeping trash in the shape of clock hands–showing the passage of time, in real time. Off in one corner, there’s actually another man, sitting in a makeshift closet, marking each passing minute by hand.

Maarten Baas


The exhibits are open for the next two weekends at Governors Island–September 11-13, and 18-20. You can find information on how to get there here.


About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.