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When private becomes public

HOUSEPROUD - a collaboration between social designers and Dutch families living in ground floor apartments. "It’s awkward because you can see in and you want to see in, but you know that you aren’t really supposed to."

By Gabrielle Kennedy /asdf 29-10-2008

To a newly arrived foreigner, Holland’s peek-a-boo housing scenario can be quite the thrill. Ground floor apartments are often completely exposed allowing passersby to visually participate in the mess, meal or TV time of the inhabitants within.

“It’s awkward,” says Rachel Griffin an American student at the Design Academy Eindhoven. “You can see in and you want to see in, but you know that you aren’t really supposed to.”

Inspired by that tension, a group of Eindhoven-based foreign designers curated the HOUSEPROUD exhibition for Dutch Design Week. 22 students were paired with 15 households to create window installations that reveal something of the domestic world within.

For the public, walking amongst the installations was like window-shopping with the products and identities of strangers exposed - a peep inside another person’s world that might reveal as much about the peeper as it does about the occupant within.

“Herman and Henne were delightful but also challenging to work with,” says Susan Camara who together with Tom Tack worked with the elderly Dutch couple to reveal but also protect their private world. “We really wanted to make a private space public so that pedestrians could see a story and get a better feel for the family. At the same time they were quite particular about privacy and did not want to exhibit their most personal belongings.”

Instead, Camara and Tack drew from the home’s location on Jan Luinstraat, a road named after a famous Dutch printer. Using that as a basis, they took facts from Herman and Henne’s lives, quotes from their favourite books, and lyrics form their favourite songs to create a personal story. The story covered the window and even bent its way around the outline of a tree that has been shading the home for twenty-five years.

“We used vinyl lettering to literally tell the tale,” Camara explains. “It was like the story was emanating from inside and spilling out into the public sphere.”

While the words and phrases revealed much about Herman and Henne, a passerby might not immediately be able to conjure up an image of the couple. The point though was for everyone to be able to form their own associations with the printed words, thus building their own story of who lives within.

So much ego fuels the design process that the end-consumers and their sensitivities hardly factor in. “This was a very humbling experience,” says Camara. “The family was very open minded but also quite reserved and we had to work around that. It necessitated tact and respect. We didn't want to impose an idea on them and instead really had to involve them.”

For her window Aliki van der Kruijs attached a cluster of sunglasses to the front window – a humorous reminder to pedestrians that they too are being watched. David Artuffo and Jihyun Ryou also played on the theme of who is looking at whom by attaching dressing table mirrors to the fronts of the windows so that the public saw as much of themselves as the room interiors.

Kristina Jervell-Pettersen revealed the bonds that develop in a student house by hanging a portrait of the students posing in traditional family roles. Jeonghwa Seo also took family portraits but added in speech bubbles that gave individual members a chance to express how they were feeling. “This was a really smart and thoughtful project,” says Griffin. “It was very personal, but still maintained a modicum of privacy for the family. I really appreciate that balance.”

Perhaps the most poignant project and the one that most cleverly played with the concept of private vs public was Daniel Oxholm’s. He chose an audio rather than visual approach by recording both inside and outside sounds then switching them. “When you are outside you can hear what's going on inside and vice versa,” says Griffin.

HOUSEPROUD challenged the role design plays in a social environment. It also confronted that slippery line, which demarcates private and public territory in Holland's ground floor apartments.

HOUSEPROUD was made possible by the gemeente Eindhoven, your-space and the Van
Abbe Museum. It was curated by Saron Paz (Sandberg Institute), Rachel Griffin (Design Academy Eindhoven), Clare Butcher (Van Abbe Museum) and Kwok Wing Lam (Winnie) (Design Academy Eindhoven).

Images: HOUSEPROUD projects from top Kristina Jervell-Pettersen, Susan Camara & Tom Tack, Aliki van der Kruijs, David Artuffo & Jihyun Ryou, and Jeonghwa Seo

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