When it comes to design and innovation, Brabant is ahead of the pack by a country mile. In and around Eindhoven, designers and technicians are together inventing the future. And their work is garnering international attention.
Every October, many inhabitants of the urban heart of the Netherlands make the journey south to visit the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. This year, the nine-day event drew no less than 355.000 visitors, fanning out across the various Eindhoven neighborhoods to view exhibits, attend readings, enthrall themselves with the latest high-tech gadgets, and to drink and dine in unexpected spots. And also to tell each other: An interesting place, Eindhoven, isn’t it? That’s because Eindhoven is blooming. Its rise didn’t happen by chance, for while Amsterdam was trying to cope with its huge influx of tourists and Rotterdam was peaking, Eindhoven was working in the relative shadows to achieve its own mission: to become the high-tech and hardware capital of Europe. Quite simply, Eindhoven was aiming to be the location where new systems and machines are conceived and created that will change the lives of people around the world.
Standing strong together
The growth of Eindhoven has had a knock-on effect on other cities in the region. One of those is Tilburg, which already had its fair share of visitors, but is now undergoing a major redevelopment of its railways. Creative pioneers are transforming a series of industrial sheds belonging to the national railway company into a brand-new attraction bustling with activity. The Spoorzone (Railway Area) has become a breeding ground for knowledge and innovation where – as opposed to Eindhoven and its focus on technology – the emphasis is on human behavior. MindLabs, a cooperative venture between Tilburg University, the Fontys University of Applied Sciences, the educational body Onderwijsgroep Tilburg and publishing company the Persgroep, which is housed in a former boiler factory, is a prime example of this.
“We’re working together in the fields of interactive technology and human behavior by linking education, research, and entrepreneurship,” says Max Louwerse, professor of Cognitive Psychology and Artificial Intelligence at Tilburg University and co-founder of MindLabs. He points to Vibe, or Virtual Humans in the Brabant Economy, as an instance of this. Louwerse believes that the conditions Tilburg provides are just right for a startup such as MindLabs.
It’s located centrally and there is much goodwill to be found among the companies and knowledge institutes in the region. We stand very strong together.Max Louwerse - Co-founder of MindLabs.
The historic center of Den Bosch gives it a very different character to cities such as Eindhoven and Tilburg, but here too the industrial buildings of the railway zone have become laboratories of the future. In the former feed silos that once belonged to Mengvoederfabriek De Heus, the city now offers space for experimentation and innovation without having a specific goal in mind. The Kaaihallen regularly play host to festivals and other events, while the Mengfabriek (the old feed-mixing factory) has become a laboratory where startups and veteran companies work together to create a local and circular economy. No waste and no outages – that’s their motto. A great example is that all the companies save their used coffee cups and give them to Maarten Kierkels, who works with waste materials and organic synthetic resin and creates designer tables from the used cups for the company Dokx. Kierkels labels the Tramkade as “the new edge of what is otherwise a very neat city”. He built his own workshop.
That mélange of creativity and scientific industriousness is unique to Brabant. It has unleashed a churning energy that has turned Brainport Eindhoven into one of Europe’s most forward-looking high-tech industrial regions. The transient nature is appealing: to the inhabitants who live in a bubbling city, to the companies that feel they have the space to tackle issues, and to the visitors that have something new to discover on each return visit.