Hedwig Heinsman is one of the three founding members of the Amsterdam-based office DUS Architects. The young office boldly searches for interesting projects and ambitiously follows them through. Heinsman arrives in Finland in May, when she is a guest speaker at the Arkkitehtipäivät [Architect Days] event in Jyväskylä on 22.–23.5.2015. Architect Aino Toivonen interviewed Hedwig Heinsman with reference to her forthcoming visit.
Looking into the Future
The range of works of DUS Architects includes art installations, product and events design, and in architecture from interior designs to entire buildings, as well as large ongoing urban planning projects. Small-scale projects include, for instance, the Amsterdam mugs in The Local Mug project designed for Iittala in 2008.
Their largest projects include, among others, the rejuvenation of 150 houses in Nieuwegein. The objective is to prepare the neighbourhood for the future by preserving the structural frames of the buildings but renewing the spatial layout and facades. The office’s most recent works are the remodelling of the interiors of Schiphol Airport as well as the Canal House project in Amsterdam realised by 3D printing.
How did DUS Architects come about?
Me, Hans Vermeulen and Martine de Wit together carried out our first joint project already 11 years ago when we were still studying at Delft University of Technology. The task was to design a flexible and interactive space for the foyer of the Faculty of Architecture. The result was Cocoon, woven from bicycle inner tubes and resembling a butterfly cocoon. In addition to the lounge of the faculty, it was also on display elsewhere in the Netherlands and around Europe.
Behind the choice of material was the desire to find both a low-cost and new way of building. A total of 3 kilometres of inner tubes was used for the project. The implementation was a combination of an old weaving technique and a new kind of building material.
During the eight-week project, we discovered that we work well together. We also shared many ideological principles. I’m happy that our office still follows the same principles as it did early on. Important for us is designing by doing as well as innovative material choices.
How did the office get its name?
Unlike what many people think, the name of the office is not an acronym. Our office, which had first originated with the Cocoon project, required a name and the Dutch word ″dus″ (in English ″so″) felt suitable: ″dus″ is often exclaimed at the end of a conversation, before taking action. We like to talk and talk a lot, but concrete action has from the very beginning been our central working method.
How did you end up undertaking so many different kinds of projects?
We are not so much waiting for commissions, but rather we ourselves have often been the driving force for the projects. Also the versatility of the projects comes from our desire to investigate and develop new things as well as numerous interesting projects of our own.
Taking the users into consideration is important in both small and large projects. Also large projects consist of small details. The remodelling of the airport terminal can be a complex task but ultimately it is the details that ensure people’s comfort. The design principles and processes are also very similar, irrespective of whether it is a small or large project.
We aim to design personalized products, buildings, and facilities for large numbers of people – and preferably cost effectively as well.
What is the office′s design approach?
The building of scale models plays a very important role and is an important principle in design by doing. Before the actual implementation, the buildings and spaces are beta-tested in the scale 1:1. For example, through a pop-up installation built overnight, it is possible to study how people react to the project in practice, how the space is used and what kind of encounters it creates. The test group, which at its best consists of future users of the end product, gives its opinions and describes its experiences. Our objective is to consciously influence people’s everyday life.
We aim to design personalized products, buildings, and facilities for large numbers of people – and preferably cost effectively as well. The intended users are included in the project from start to finish, and their viewpoints can be brought out also through workshops and excursions. These ingredients form the so-called DUS-method, for which we even received an award in 2006. More recently, the use of social media has also been incorporated into the method and as well as the study of the opportunities it offers.
The office’s design principles have been listed as a manifesto. It’s like a recipe for a design, the ingredients for which can be applied according to the needs of each project. In the implementation of the work we want to provide the user with the ability to interpret the space in several different ways and to develop new ways of using it. As society changes, also urban space and other public space should be adaptable. Instead of the construction of new facilities, one could consider, for example, the round-the-clock use of existing office spaces.
How did the widely publicized Canal House Project come about?
Canal House is a building in Amsterdam that will be 3D printed. In this project, too, we were the driving force, instead of receiving the commission from an outside party. The idea was born out of the interest to examine how it would be possible to create custom-made buildings for large masses of people around the world. Research is carried out by testing the implementation in practice.
The project began with the construction of a large-size 3D printer, KamerMaker. At the initial stage, the usability of different biomaterials for printing was researched. Our hope is to find a sufficiently affordable and durable material, so that in the future the individual building can be implemented quickly, without producing large quantities of waste and eliminating the environmental damage and costs caused by transport. By 3D printing it is also possible to avoid standardized components and elements.
Stopmotion video of the KamerMaker, credits DUS architects.
The theme of the Architect Days event focuses on the international character of architecture and the exchange of ideas across national borders. Does one’s place of residence, however, affect design?
I was an exchange student at Helsinki University of Technology in 2002, and lived and worked in Helsinki in 2006–2007, while running the DUS Architects branch office. I really enjoyed being in Finland. Finnish and Dutch architecture differ in that in Finland everything has three times as much insulation, is very carefully planned, sometimes perhaps even a bit too cautiously. In the Netherlands, on the other hand, new things are sometimes tried even recklessly – and also sometimes fail badly.
The design premises are very different in these countries. In Finland nature is a richness and is present everywhere, something which is also taken into account when designing. Also the weather conditions pose their own construction requirements. In the Netherlands, on the other hand, nature is mainly a green strip in front of the facade and there are buildings everywhere.
Is there any Dutchness evident in your office’s work?
I don’t feel that we have any particular Dutch way of designing, if one makes a comparison to what other Dutch offices are currently doing. We rather look more towards Silicon Valley. Typical of our office’s working method is to attempt to see into the future and research the effects of cutting-edge technology on the built environment. Social media has changed the way people interact with each other. Cities and other public spaces have traditionally functioned as the stages of human interaction. In the changing society it will, however, become necessary to consider whether the residents of a building could be encouraged to act together through some IT application.
Additional information can be found on the office’s website, www.dusarchitects.com, as well as the website of the 3D Print Canal House: www.3dprintcanalhouse.com. It’s possible to visit the Canal House project building site in Amsterdam from Tuesday to Saturday, 11–17, on payment of a small entrance fee. For more information about the Local Mug project, please visit www.city-eyes.nl.
Text: Aino Toivonen.
English translation: Gareth Griffiths and Kristina Kölhi.
This interview has been published in Finnish in Arkkitehtiuutiset 4/2015, p. 7–9.