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Platform21 Closes With Big Plans To Follow

Platform21, the pre-cursor to Amsterdam’s planned design museum Supermaker, is closing its doors after three years.  Artistic director, Joanna van der Zanden talks about what comes next.   

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 03-09-2009

Three years ago Platform21 opened to the public with the specific purpose of developing a concept plan for a Dutch design museum. Artistic Director, Joanna van der Zanden calls the incubation period a resounding success and says that together with her team, she is ready to implement all they have learned in the next step towards opening a permanent space.

Tucked in behind a small chapel in Amsterdam’s Zuidas development, Platform21 has put on over forty exhibitions in its 300 square meter space.  

Rather than showcase the best of Dutch designed objects or ideas, Platform21 took a more inclusive and democratic approach.  Sensing that design, like art, can sound elitist and very final, the team instead broached subjects and often verbs from everyday life and curated exhibitions that explored the ideas that make those genres tick. The point was to attract different communities beyond the design world.  Inevitably, exhibitions delved into design thinking and processes albeit in an organic rather than a self-conscious way.

Some of the biggest hits – Travels Through Paradise, Hacking Ikea, Cooking and Construction, and Folding taught the Platform21 team how to be intuitive and to always listen to feedback from the audience.  “This has been a very unique way to build a new cultural institution,” says Van der Zanden.  “The biggest thrill was when members of the public with no design background would come and spend a lot of time and ask questions.”

Van der Zanden points to Repairing as the event that had the biggest impact on the next stage. “It was about empowering people to become creative,” she says. “It connected new techniques to old techniques and was about relationships between people and objects.”

All very important themes, because design was never supposed to be the immediate point or focus.  “We didn't want top down curated shows, but bottom up shows that explored processes and included people,” Van der Zanden says.  “Our aim was to get people and our audience - both professionals and amateurs - more involved in design and fashion.”

In it’s earliest exhibitions, the biggest difficulty was encouraging visitors to overcome their expectations of what a museum should be doing.  “We were acting as an incubator,” Van der Zanden says, “but when people visit, they expect exhibitions to be programmed in a certain way.  They perhaps thought they’d be seeing finished and top designs, so I think it has taken some time for people to understand that we were actually trying to develop new formats for showing design processes.”

From here, Platform21 plans to move to a 1000 square meter space and further fine-tune its ideas and activities before moving back to a 5000 square meter space in the Zuidas area.  The eventual “museum” will be called Supermaker.  Due to the financial crisis, the plans for Supermaker were cancelled earlier this year, but then put back on the agenda by ING Bank that owns a lot of the real estate in the area. The Supermaker project is an initiative of ING Bank, Premsela – Dutch Platform for Design and Fashion, and the City Council of Amsterdam.

“Supermaker will stem from a lot of experimentation and learning at Patform21,” says Van der Zanden.  “Each new programme we put on contained a clear model of learning and doing and changing, and then doing again.  After experiencing that, we have developed our concept and feel that the best way is to incorporate as many collaborators and cultural institutions as possible.”

The themes, then, will be collaboration, participation and transparency – design not as something for the mindful elite, but for everybody.  It’s a way of informing and celebrating the impact and power design has over everyday lives.

Platform21’s final project is with Japanese designer Yuri Suzuki and artist Masa Kimura who together are building a Breakfast Machine and throwing everything into the mix – Platform21 = Jamming. They will reuse remnants of past Platform21 projects and receive help from previous Platform21 designers as well as the public. For eight days, everyone will build the machine together, ultimately turning Platform21 into a two-day restaurant serving all-day breakfasts. Every day at 17:00, it is Happy Jamming Hour.

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