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Designer Dialogues: Bouke Bruins

30 September 2020

©Maarten Coolen
The creatives of Sectie-C, an Eindhoven based design hub, initiated BLANK SPACE MAGAZINE, a magazine that portrays different creative makers in their workplaces while interviewed by colleagues. What fascinates, inspires and drives them to do what they do? Especially for, BLANK SPACE MAGAZINE edited the interviews into interesting short stories. This week, we take a look inside the studio of Bouke Bruins.

The world outside the front door has fascinated Bouke Bruins ever since he was a child, through scouting and, later, through graffiti. It led to ‘Boyscout Designer’, a playful approach to staging interventions in public space. They often carry a message or social theme. “And sometimes a smile and a picture are enough.”

©Maarten Coolen

As a child, with a family legacy in the scouts, Bruins loved nothing more than to run through the woods, exploring and building constructions. One of the highlights was Jamboree On The Air, an event that brought scouts from all over the world in touch with each other. It involved building towers, 20 tot 25 meters high, without any nails, just wood and ropes. “It never failed to amaze me. The architecture, the shape, and the way you can combine qualities to achieve something greater together.” All the way on top there would be a radio mast that allowed them to talk to fellow scouts across the continents. “The scout leaders were preparing this event for weeks in advance. They created a world outdoors for the children, offered them a place. It always fascinated me and it still contributes to what I’m doing now: to make outdoor space more fun.”

When he was about twelve, scouting gave way to urban, ciggies, beers, hip-hop, skating. A young Bruins looked up at graffiti artists like Jeroen Erosie and he met his heroes when he moved to Eindhoven, about ten years ago. During his studies at the Dutch Design Academy, he wondered how he might turn his hobby into a profession. “I didn’t necessarily make pretty paintings, I was actually more interested in the concept and in playing with outdoor space. To explore it, find its boundaries and a form of expression. Just like a graffiti artist sees the street as his canvas, as ‘Boyscout Designer’ I really consider outdoor space to be my setting. You can play in it, make changes, place installations.” His work is rebellious as well. “The older we get, the more restrictions we have. I want to be a child too, to play again, make things that invite people to go outside. Sometimes, a smile and a picture in response are enough.” The art is to link a social theme, like loneliness, to the work. It takes a lot of time and, often, research as well. Societal insight and social commitment are crucial to Boyscout Designer.”

©Maarten Coolen

‘Boyscout Designer’ is not an individual, but the mentality described above, deriving from Bruins’ own ideals and his vision of the world around him. To make the mentality more tangible and protected, he drew up ten rules and presented the Boyscout Designer Manifest at his Design Academy graduation. “Some people think my work is very spontaneous, that it consists of playful actions. But I actually based the concepts on specific rules.” The first rule from the manifest, for instance, is bend the rules, and the last one is take responsibility. So try to bend the rules, but make sure that any damage is reversible. “The rules exist to prevent problems but also to achieve certain goals and be able to actually contribute something.”

Last year, Bruins moved to Antwerp, to shack up with his girlfriend. He noticed, however, that creativity in Belgium is more about art and less about design and practical solutions. So the Utrechter continued to work in Eindhoven, where he rents a warehouse at Kanaaldijk-Noord since December. The location is ideal, at the water, near various shops and Sectie-C. “The past few months we worked hard to turn this into a great studio, with tenants who strengthen each other.” They built several offices out of remnants from previous projects, and the windows came from an old squash court. And there’s a shared workshop as well. “We’re not really keen on fancy design studios, but we welcome likeminded people who compliment each other. We would like this to be more of a social design section, where we approach social themes as a team.” 

Corona left plenty of time in the past months to work at the warehouse. Bouke did like to go out from time to time, because he finds it incredibly interesting what the corona crisis is doing to outdoor space. “You could see people all taking their own measures to comply with the one-and-a-half-meter society. Shop owners – eager to stay in business – sticking tape to the floor and drawing lines to indicate how queueing people should behave. As Boyscout Designer you often work from a bottleneck concept, trying to come up with a solution for a specific problem. Unfortunately, I did loose some jobs because of corona, but it gives me a lot inspiration as well.”

There is a large wire loop game in front of the warehouse, a ‘city hack’ in response to a simple crush barrier, commissioned by Kaapstad Tilburg. Some of Bruins work is autonomous, but usually there are clients involved and, occasionally, nerve-wracking bureaucracy. “That is a hurdle every designer encounters now and then. It makes you wonder sometimes: am I just a nice trump card to be played for commercial gain here, or is the client actually concerned with the social goal? Are they pursuing the same ideals and are they willing to follow up on it? When demand is higher, you can be more choosy yourself of course.” It’s the eternal dilemma of the self-employed: to strike a balance between commercial and autonomous work. Since mid-2020, Bruins joined forces with fellow designers Fier van den Berge and Pim Bens. Together they form the company De Reuringdienst (The Excitement Service). “We’re working more professionally now, but our focus is still on public space. We compliment each other and are convinced that we can achieve a lot more together. You can tell that the Boyscout Designer legacy runs in all three of us.” 

The full interview with Bouke Bruins can be found in the third edition of BLANK SPACE MAGAZINE. You can follow BLANK SPACE MAGAZINE here.

Text: Thomas Dal / Translation: Nanne op ’t Ende/ Photography: Maarten Coolen