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"As long as the pope doesn't find out!"

Blasphemous but beautiful, Atelierdorp is a collective of Eindhoven designers who have found an ingenious and pagan solution to every designer's thirst for more space.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 06-11-2008

Squatting is serious stuff in Holland. Squatters have rights and status, and they often enjoy widespread public sympathy. Their position is anti big-business and against the massive real estate speculators who sit on empty properties in order to capitalize on price fluctuations.

It’s hardly a surprise then that amongst Eindhoven’s squatting community is a smattering of designers and even Design Academy Eindhoven students.

“The problem,” says recent graduate Julien Carretero, “is that to design anything big at the academy is impossible. They really don’t have the facilities. We are expected to clean up at the end of every day and take our project away."

And that means students undertaking ambitious-in-scale projects need outside space to work in. For a student, squatting makes good sense.

Two years ago during Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, a group of squatters including some designers were kicked out of the DAF Tower. The designers were outraged and their protests were loud enough to reach the press. “It was ridiculous,” says designer Nacho Carbonell. “On the one hand Eindhoven asserts itself as the design capital of Europe and on the other, designers are being kicked out on the streets. You can’t call yourself the design capital of Europe if designers can’t even work.”

Appreciating their point and put off by the bad press, the government decided to help the students find appropriate workspaces. A collective which now includes both Carretero and Carbonell was established and a meeting with the Woonbedrijf was set up. “They (the Woonbedrijf) own two thirds of Eindhoven,” says Carbonell, “including this church which until we moved in had been empty for five years.”

The church, a massive and intimidating cathedral-like building complete with stained glass windows and a cloud-high altar, sits on the outskirts of Eindhoven. It is now home to eleven designers who form the Atelierdorp collective. The floor space is partitioned into separate studios for each designer who also share facilities like a plastics and rubber casting room, a textiles room, a ceramics room and a welding room.

When the designers moved in, the initial deal was for four months and there were some early hiccups. “First they told us we had to leave the doors open because the community had gotten used to using the facility to host children’s birthday parties,” says Carbonell. “Obviously that was not going to work for us.”

After some negotiation, the designers got they keys to the doors and in return created public design for the community. “We weren’t paid, but the Woonbedrijf covered our costs,” says Nacho. The designers have now been in residence for eighteen months and that doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.

Since graduating, Carretero has been working on creating unique pieces using a serial and repetitive production method. First he inflates a plastic resin to give it texture, then he sets a simple chair. Around that chair he makes a new mould, which he recasts on top of the first. He does this over and over again stacking each new layer next to the last and, like in a game of Chinese Whispers, each new piece ends up with imperfections and new irregularities. The final piece ends up being a complete departure from the first.

“The process designs the shape," says Carretero. To highlight the process Carretero finishes each layer in a different colour.

Carbonell is at an earlier stage of the design process and is experimenting with different organic materials to develop a new but malleable material. His studio is filled with boxes and bags of decaying leaves and twigs. “I’m not sure if I’ll even end up using any of this," he says, "but I’m playing around with it for now to see what I can find.

“The best thing about this space is that we have nobody here telling us that anything is impossible,” Carbonell continues. “We can do really big projects, be as experimental as we like and try anything when it comes to materials …. As long as the pope doesn't find out, I think this setup is just perfect.”

Images: top page designers from Atelierdorp, inside the church, Julien Carretero, Carretero’s “To be Continued” bench (photos courtesy of Studio Julien Carretero), Nacho Carbonell at work creating new materials from organic materials.

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