The Next Nature Network, a non-profit organization and the brainchild of ID Fellow Koert van Mensvoort, is the driving force behind the founding of the Eindhoven-based futurelab. In early June, Van Mensvoort saw the futurelab plan receive a positive evaluation by the Dutch Council for Culture, but when the time came for the Council to advise Culture Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven, the initiative lost out to Waag (Technology & Society), an Amsterdam-based organization.
In July, however, the Lower House adopted a motion to request that the cabinet investigate how national funding could be directed in a single wave towards the futurelab and other Eindhoven-based initiatives in the same field. This resulted yesterday in the commitment of two million euros for the coming four years, and Van Mensvoort expects that the province and the municipality will match this sum by drawing on funds from, among other pots, the Regional Deal Brainport.
Glimpse of the future
He says he is very pleased to now be able to move ahead. The promised two million euros will enable Next Nature and its partners, among them TU/e, the Dutch Design Foundation, the Design Academy, the MU Hybrid Art House and the Van Abbe Museum, to set to work designing the futurelab. The intended home of the futurelab is Evoluon. Since January this has been a topic of discussion between Van Mensvoort and Jan Mengelers, President of the Evoluon Foundation and former Executive Board President of TU/e. “For 2021 I'm already developing our first project for this location,” Van Mensvoort explains. “It is going to be an exhibition lasting about a month. We want to put visitors in a time machine of sorts, by using a VR experience. We want to offer them a glimpse of the future.”
In 2025 Van Mensvoort would like to have the entire Evoluon set up as a futurelab. In conjunction with the other parties, it is intended that a program of activities will be offered that sheds new light on societal issues. This light will shine through the prism of design and technology and the links between these two fields. “This is something that we have been working on with Next Nature for years and we want to bring this perspective to public attention in all manner of ways,” says Van Mensvoort, “including with exhibitions, with our employment agency HUBOT for robots, our workshops and our mobile Nano Supermarket. We are doing this not only here in the region but also on a national and international level. We have demonstrated our ability to do this; only last year, for example, we had a large project running in China. And we'll be constructing an online platform.”
An educational program will also be developed, says Van Mensvoort. “It is important that we show our up-and-coming generation the impact technology and design can have on society and on their lives, so we also want to reach the younger age groups with futurelab. For example, I'm already in discussion with astronaut André Kuipers, who is addressing his own message to young people in the top two year groups in junior-middle education. Teenagers are another group that interests me. They are at an age when it is difficult to reach them so trying to do so is a challenge I'd like to take on.”
TU/e will become another important partner. “Executive Board President Robert-Jan Smits says he lends his wholehearted support and, of course, here at the university there are plenty of research studies and projects that dovetail nicely with the principles adopted by the futurelab,” says Van Mensvoort. He will soon be discussing with the board of the Department of Industrial Design whether his position there as University Fellow will be extended. This comes to an end this month after a five-year term. Van Mensvoort says he is keen to continue in the position, on which he spends one day a week.