Govert, you bring such a big energy into groups and seem to do so much. You have Enrichers, you are part of Collaboration-O and probably so much more. I am curious to your thoughts on working in communities. Where shall we begin?
With Enrichers? My design studio Enrichers derived from the research of influencing positive emotions with applying environmental enrichment. There are five informational paths that influence our brain: visual, motor, somatosensory, cognition and circadian rhythms. I gathered designers who all trigger one of those stimuli with their works: Aliki van der Kruis, Luuk van den Broek, Alissa van Asseldonk and Nienke Bongers. A few months later Florijn Vriend, a psychologist, joined the team as well.
Back in 2016, we got the chance to create an ‘Enriched Office’ as living labs at Schiphol Business Center. The living labs were three meeting spaces we designed, and we aimed to understand if ‘enriched’ spaces could bring people into a more positive mood while decreasing stress. For a year we looked at what influence the environment has on people’s wellbeing.
You started a company together from the beginning?
We did, actually it was because of Schiphol Airport. I gave a TEDx talk and Schiphol was very enthusiastic. They said: ‘Govert, could you offer your environmental enrichment to our clients?’.
To do so I had to start a company and with establishing a company, you have to state whom the owners are. That is how we started Enrichers. Since then the team evolved, some have left and others have joined.
That was then, what are you up to now?
I primarily focus on spatial work, but I also do other projects like the smart furniture sensor that I am working on at the moment. Together with Tom van Bussel (electronic engineer), Timothy Algera (industrial designer), and Florijn Vriend, we started in 2016 to work on a sensor that measures your heartbeat from your seat. Initially to get feedback on the spaces we designed for the Enriched Offices at Schiphol. Thanks to the amazing programmer Tom we developed a sensor that can both measure heartbeats and movement.
With measuring heartbeat from the seat, you can analyse how people develop stress and mood during the use of the space. By quantifying something like the experience we can prove that environmental enrichment has a positive impact on people. Therefore ‘enriched’ art and design, which is nowadays perceived as a nice extra, becomes functional.
I really like to work on challenging questions from the real world. Like what we did for Schiphol Airport, and later for Dutch Railways and Prooff. Through these projects I get a sneak peek into the working methods of those big companies, which is super interesting. I especially like the process of investigation and doing research to figure out what the real problems are and how to make its potential concrete.
Do these companies come to you with their questions?
No, mostly I go to them. The potential of redesigning their spaces is often unknown to them. Designers, architects and a few real estate developers know what you can gain with well-designed interiors. Yet, most companies are unaware of the influence spaces can have on your brain and mood. It is a long process to make companies aware of what environment enrichment is and how you can stimulate the brain with an interior to reach a higher level of wellbeing. When I get the chance to explain this to them, I’m always able to enthuse them, but it takes additional work to mould it into a business case that can pass the board.
You have a true collective mind-set. How does designing together work?
Govert Geerts and me, yes, his name is also Govert, started prototyping the chairs together. Almost daily Luuk gave his feedback on the designs. Tiddo Bakker, who had his studio next to me, opted the idea of using a bowl as a base when we were prototyping the Buoy stool. For the Moonraker, I thought of sitting on a wine bag to stimulate movement. We used that to create the seat and that evolved in the sandwich mechanism. For the Bambata water sofa, we got in contact with a waterbed manufacturer who linked us to a water floors manufacturer, which led to designing the Floatile water floor. And so on…
In Dutch, we have a nice ambiguity within the word ‘designer’. I am more of an ‘ontwerper’, as I am more the engineering-type of designer whereas other designers of Enrichers are more the type ‘vormgever’. They have a strong sense of the right aesthetics and material use. The designs of Enrichers are a true co-creative process. You can’t put one designer’s name on the product. Well, if so, Design Team Enrichers would be the name.
How did you end up at the masters at the Design Academy?
At TU Delft, I was for some mentors already too artistic. During my studies I missed working hands-on in architecture and it seemed the Design Academy Eindhoven had the right mix. Architecture is a slow process. You have to build up credibility to be able to do real cool projects. As a designer this is totally different. To create a crazy design, you can finance it mostly yourself, whereas for buildings you need other people their money to make it happen.
Actually, I wanted to become a movie director, but I was seventeen at the time. and apparently the film academy mainly took students older than twenty-three. I got rejected for Film Academy. I wanted to do something creative and I started to study architecture. As a kid I thought that most buildings were ugly and wanted to make the world more beautiful. I still have an affinity towards film making, but I’m happy with the choices that I have made.
Your story really comes together in my opinion.
Yes, it kind of does. I’m now trying to offer architecture as a service, but while talking to architectural firms I notice how slow they are. I somehow attract slow things while I’m super impatient. I think that is my lesson in life: to learn to be patient.