The future of interiors: an interview with Niels van Eijk and Miriam van der Lubbe

This year’s ambassadors for the sector Interiors of our annual trade fair MaterialDistrict Rotterdam (formerly Material Xperience) are Niels van Eijk and Miriam van der Lubbe, all round designers in the fields of architecture, spatial design and product design. Well-known for their pragmatic approach, love for materials and craftsmanship, they aim to give each project an extra layer of meaning. For the sector Interiors, the theme during MaterialDistrict Rotterdam will be ‘Dialogue’. Time for dialogue with them.

1. What does the interior look like in 100 years if it were up to you?
That’s impossible to say, as it would already be difficult to determine how the interior would look ten years from now. Of course, humans have basic needs, if you’re talking about the residential environment, and those are here to stay. Think of eating and sleeping. But in 100 years, life as a whole will be different. It’s possible that by then, work as we know it now won’t even exist anymore, and perhaps through materialization, the borders of inside and out will no longer be there. Only with a crystal ball you could see that far into the future. And that’s just the residential environment, let alone the workspace or cultural environment. Changes are going so fast. If you look at the changes that took place in the past 50 years in terms of technology, and how that technology influenced our lives, in 100 years, life will be radically different. Technology is being developed for the most part to aid humans and improve comfort. But is that always the best development?

For instance, we did a study for Volvo. The car industry is developing like mad. Only a few more years and the self-driving car is here. All focus is on the technological development and what it means for public roads and personal liability. But we are more interested in what it means for us as the driver. When a car dives autonomously, the driver doesn’t have to hold the steering wheel anymore. Then we have extra time and extra space. How can you design or fill that?

We think that the same goes for interior, in the broadest sense of the word. The moment technology is developed to relieve us, what do we get back? The best thing would be if that high tech developments have an influence on our low tech life. Then you can consider which needs you have, as a human. Those needs, in turn, are fairly simple, like health, meaning and social aspects. The discussion that is now happening in the work environment, ‘what happens when the robots take over our job’, is present in all fields. On the one hand, this calls for ethical consideration, but on the other, it also offers possibilities for the world of design.

2. What do you think is the best invention ever, and why?
There have been a lot of inventions that are brilliant, but often, those also have a dark side. The internet, for instance, was an amazing invention that provided a lot of freedom. Freedom of expression, acquiring knowledge, unlocking the world. However, the internet also has its downsides, as we all know. Especially in the last couple of years, the might of the internet has become a negative thing.

Every invention also stands in relation to its time. In the 50s, the vacuum cleaner and the washing machine were brilliant inventions, and earlier, in the 20s, the lift, which made large-scale high-rise buildings possible.

3. What do you think are the most important material innovations within your sector of interior and why?
The development of sustainable production and laying as little claim as possible on fossil fuels is an important and absolutely necessary development. The most important innovation in that is our collective consciousness that sustainability is essential. Designers play an important role in that. They translate idea and demand into materialization, so they lay claim to raw materials. The care with which they do that is of the utmost importance. But it is also a struggle. When using sustainable materials, there will always be a discussion, with questions like, how much is it allowed to cost, how much trouble may it cause for the production process, how do you burden the consumer?

The development of biobased material is now hot, like the cradle-to-cradle development was important before that, and ecodesign before that. Every time frame has its own consciousness of producing sustainably. As creator, whether you’re a designer, architect or product designer, you have to feel responsible and be conscious, taking a step to improve sustainability. There has to be an evolution in that.

4. With which other sector is your sector the most closely related, and is the most similarity or cross-pollination in material innovation?
While we represent the sector Interiors at MaterialDistrict Rotterdam, we don’t feel like interior designers. Rather, we are designers in the broadest sense of the word, and it doesn’t matter whether we design a product, textile or fashion. We do not work within a discipline, but around an idea. It is always a challenge to develop things and obtain the right knowledge. What we do as design studio ranges from the largest to the smallest size, from material to immaterial. So we feel connected with all disciplines.

In our view, the separate disciplines within design will disappear in the future. There used to be a private need for designing, for people to feel like artists. While that certainly has a raison d’être, the time we live in now demands a more public approach. If you want to work with every possibility our time has to offer, then collaboration is the most important development.

5. Which theme is currently the most important in your sector?
Sustainability, as mentioned in question 3, is currently the most important theme. That is, sustainability as precondition. If it is used as some kind of marketing tool, it’s not really sustainability. For everything a manufacturer makes, they have to take responsibility. There has to be a consciousness of the ‘impact of making’. If sustainability is viewed as a precondition, it is in the company’s DNA. Then it gets interesting.

6. MaterialDistrict’s goal is to connect various parties. Which other party or person should the visitor get to know according to you, and why?
Creatives, in the broadest sense of the word, should come into contact with science, The future of development is not in design. In the past 10 years, we though the creative sector would be the solution to our problems. However, we consider creative science to be the solution to those problems, in which designers play a role in defining a vision. The road to get there, though, lies in scientific development. From chemistry and physics, but also from historical research, so you can learn how to act in the future. If you combine knowledge with creativity, that is where you’ll find gold. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

About the ambassadors
Van Eijk and Van der Lubbe joined forces in 1998 and ever since, they have been working and designing for cultural institutions and businesses that focus on the future. The studio creates designs to make a difference. Read more about the ambassadors here.

MaterialDistrict Rotterdam
MaterialDistrict Rotterdam is the leading event for R&D and design professionals within six sectors: Architecture, Interiors, Urban & Landscapes, Products, Textiles & Fabrics and Print & Sign. The trade fair takes place from 12 to 14 March 2019 in Rotterdam Ahoy, the Netherlands. Want to visit? Click here for your free ticket!