Going Dutch

When you work for a Dutchman, who's passionate about design, and especially that which comes from his homeland, it's probably a good idea to go and check it out for yourself. And that's what we did recently.

It's definitely a country that inspires a certain kind of curiosity for me personally. I've worked with Remco for nearly four years now and I've always loved his willingness to share elements of his culture with us, be it the cool, quirky or even that which is normally reserved for children (Chocolate letter of your initial for Sinterklaas? Yes please). So the fact that we were about to head out as a team for the first time was rather exciting! 

After a rather frantic morning in the Bristol studio, Remco, Mark and myself trotted off to BRS to fly (via KLM of course) to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. Although we'd be heading for Rotterdam after that and not even passing through the Netherlands' capital.

Speaking of the Netherlands and its capital, there's a lot of parallels to be drawn with England in terms of international perception. Much like there's more to England than simply 'London', the Netherlands actually has other cities, where other people actually live too. And just like getting outside of London gives you a more accurate picture of England, Remco assured us the same is true of stepping outside of Amsterdam.

Rotterdam was not what I was expecting. I didn't do any research but my randomly generated expectation was of a classical, slightly quaint, typical European city – and I already knew a big demographic of the Dutch population love the royal family, so I think that skewed my perception of what was coming too in terms of architecture. So as we swept along the road skirting the Northern bank of the Meuse at night, I was blown away by the evening skyline before us!

The spectacle that is The Erasmusbrug ("Erasmus Bridge"), framed by skyscrapers peering over the wide, heavily-worked river that has shaped Rotterdam since its birth, was quite literally jaw dropping. It was very quickly apparent that Rotterdam was going to be quite different to what I had in my mind.

Our accommodation was the slightly bonkers Hotel Bazar on the lively 'Witte de Withstraat' not far from the river's edge. With rooms themed as either Asian, African Chancellor or South American, it definitely had a unique feel. Mark and I were on the South American floor, where rooms came complete with strong, overblown Christian shrines and idols, as well as contrasting comic book erotica for wallpaper, no really!

Our first morning was a bicycle tour of Rotterdam's architecture by Willem from Rotterdam ByCycle. It was a private tour given in English and it was a real eye opener into why Rotterdam is the way it is. And actually how town planning has an effect on literally every aspect of local society. Essentially being obliterated by Hitler in the war as a show of power, Rotterdam is a shining example of being able to 'start over' and it really shows in terms of how relaxed and chilled out the city is. In the afternoon we explored by foot, took in some museums and hunted down Remco's favorite eateries and cafes. This was going to be a belt busting trip!

It was nice to simply soak up Dutch design rather than have it served up on a plate in a book; experiencing it just through how Rotterdam is signed (streets and shops), laid out, zoned (or not in places); and through interior design, menu design and billboards. Good typography was prevalent everywhere, although we weren't totally immune from isolated cases of Comic Sans here and there!

The following day was another bicycle tour of the same nature in Den Haag ("The Hague"), before checking into the Dutch studio to catch up on a bit of work. After we'd be heading out for an Indonesian banquet with Pixillion friends and illustrators, Hans and Leo.

For the totally uninitiated: if there's more to the Netherlands than Amsterdam, then there's definitely more to The Hague than international affairs and trying war criminals!

As we approached, it was again clear that this was another vastly rebuilt and modern city, far removed from what I was anticipating. There was a lot more traditional architecture to be seen, but the skyline was still dominated by imposing skyscrapers and tower blocks. Again, it was heavily bombed in the war, although this time it was us not Germany. Not an intentionally offensive move of course. The Hague was near the site of Hilter's V1 and V2 missile batteries, and when we decided to try and unload the collective force of the RAF onto it, we unfortunately missed by a small margin. Much of The Hague's densely populated centre took the brunt of it.

It was really interesting getting such a detailed 'from the ground' tour of two sibling cities, covering ground with the speed but also visibility that only a bicycle can allow. If I'd had to sum up The Hague compared to Rotterdam, then The Hague is where I'd want to live and work, and Rotterdam is where I'd want to go and party, eat and be entertained. If Rotterdam felt chilled, then The Hague was positively horizontal. If Rotterdam was edgy and vibrant, The Hague was warm and comforting.

Our trip ended with an Indonesian feast, so I'll end this blog on a related little anecdote. The really crude, short version of the Indonesian-Netherlands connection is that Indonesia was still a Dutch colony as recently as 1949, which was when Indonesia finally gained independence. It was common for colonists to return home in retirement and bring their servants with them. And as a result of this, and the spice trade that was funding colonisation at the time, it was inevitable that Indonesian cuisine was going to come with it. Put really simply, Indonesian food in the Netherlands (but especially The Hague) is like Indian food in the UK (especially the Midlands). It was something I found particularly fascinating as it makes the UK-Indian food culture somewhat less unique after all!

After a reasonably late night, somewhat disturbed by Rotterdam unleashing its nightlife in full force on the streets below, we were up for a pre-dawn drive back to the airport to fly home; the sun barely rising as we stood in the departure lounge. It was a fantastic trip and it was amazing to finally 'Go Dutch' after all these years. Cheers Remco!

Full set of DSLR pics on Rotterdam on our Flickr pages.

Pixillion takes a team trip to Rotterdam, Den Haag and the Pixillion NL studio.

Design, Day-to-day, Photography, Events

Posted by — Gary Lake

June, 2012