Looking back to move forward

Scrolling through the DDA archive, I suddenly thought about the blowpipes I used to make as a child from yellow PVC pipes, tied together with brightly coloured insulation tape. These became true works of art, with multiple barrels for long and short distances and complete with all kinds of cool accessories such as a visor, several handles and reservoirs for snowberries and paper darts. It was a lifestyle for me and my friends in the early eighties. The catapult, that boring Y-shaped stick with an elastic band, was old news. We worked with the materials available to us at the time, unfamiliar with the dangers of dioxins that are released by burning PVC and toxic dyes such as cadmium in the beautiful bright yellow insulation tape. Seeing a yellow tube like that can still transport me back to the early eighties and the sound of bursting snowberries.

Delving deep into the DDA archives for this column gave me a similar feeling. So many ‘oh yeah’s’ and ‘wow… that was a long time ago’. A feast of recognition with forgotten guests and friends for life. Lots of the nominees and winners have become naturally integrated into our daily lives – sometimes almost imperceptibly. Products like the Senz umbrella (winner 2007), the Slim Table by Bertjan Pot (winner 2006) or the Smartfix system by Scope for Wavin water pipes (winner 2007) have all proven themselves to be permanent fixtures in their field. 


With the benefit of hindsight and today’s knowledge, it is now difficult to understand what inspired the jury to select some of the nominees. A submarine for tourist trips (nominee 2012): an object that, now that we humans are developing a better understanding of our place in the world, really belongs to the past. A Dipvase by Smool (nominee 2005) is certainly made using a beautiful and inventive dipping process, but from a material that, just like my PVC blowpipe, should go into retirement. I am curious whether there are more environmentally friendly alternatives available now so that both vase and blowpipe can be given a new lease of life.

Another well-meant ‘solution’ is the No Smoking Pole by Atelier Spoorbouwmeester (nominee 2007). Although the metal column is elegantly designed, (I once had the idea to paint one of them to look like a giant cigarette) it created more problems than it solved, with the low point of smouldering ashtrays that could engulf a whole station in smoke. In short, some nominations that at first seemed promising, very quickly became things of the past.

There are other entries that deserved more success; the Jar Tops by Jorre van Ast (winner 2008) still appeals to the imagination, especially now that supermarkets like Pieter Pot are becoming established in our daily lives. Maybe thus guy was a little early to the party…The REX chair by Ineke Hans that was nominated back in 2011 for its progressive use of materials, has managed to innovate itself and has risen like a phoenix from the ashes to be nominated again for its well-developed circular scenario for distribution and use. With the REX chair, Ineke Hans and Circuform show how valuable it can be to keep looking back at what already exists and to continue improving it for the future. The rich and varied DDA archive that has just been made available can certainly help designers with this.

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