Studio Dialogue #2 – Lennart Booij
From the museum into the house
Good design in the context of our time
Art historian, entrepreneur and creative director of 750 years Amsterdam 2025, Lennart Booij in conversation with Marjan van Aubel about good design in our present time, the challenges and questions we are facing and what we can learn from history.
Marjan van Aubel: How do you see the future of objects, how will we perceive them and how will we look into the future?
Lennart Booij: Maybe let’s start with what a good design is. Good design is always connected to the time it’s been developed in. These days it’s the questions we are facing regarding our future, especially in relation to nature, climate change and the search of designers that ask themselves what they can add to the big questions and how they can be part of the solution. Young designers started questioning that in the late 90s, early 2000s and I think that you did that as well by experimenting and questioning yourself: “Will I just make another table or another chair? – No, I won’t. I will add something to the debate about our dependency on the classic energy forms like oil and gas and ask what we can expect from new possibilities.”
I think a good design today is exactly that – it’s research and design in one. You approached it step by step in your work, starting with the current window that deals with organising energy by using windows as already existing surfaces in buildings. I think you had an “Aha” moment when you realised that almost every object has a surface that can be used as an energy transformer (that can be used to harvest energy). You made your current table which we at that time decided to exhibit in the Stedelijk museum in Amsterdam and I think since then you made new steps by saying “I really need a product which can be sold at the free market, a product that is not a prototype anymore and which helps people understand that design can add to our energy demand”.
Your lamp Sunne, which moved from the prototype phase into the production phase, is sort of that promising idea. I hope that people will start buying objects that help to reduce the energy dependence in daily life and that drop the idea that you can only consume energy instead of making it.
Good design helps people to move forward, to re-debate and re-evaluate their own position and I think younger generations are open for this. They are looking at vintage clothing, the re-use of furniture; they regenerate and refine and give new possibilities to old stuff. I think you have been designing this sort of products and objects over the last years apart of the movement. It’s a symbol of this time and I think that brings us back to the answer of the question what a good design is – It should be a symbol of its time and I hope the lamp Sunne can be exactly that. Out of the museum into the house is the best step you can make as a designer.
MvA: My aim is that we look at how objects and houses are using energy, how this idea is embedded into the design. So in the future we would say a house is broken when it doesn’t generate its own energy. The same with the light, it doesn’t function if it doesn’t harvest its own energy.
LB: That’s exactly what I like about it. The old light was a bulb you had to buy and when it was broken you threw it away, you were depended on classic electricity by providers on the net. The provider itself was using the old fashioned energy like coal, gas and oil. By looking into new possibilities we now see that we can make our own generators and we can be independent of the net. It’s a completely new way of looking at the position of a household and that means you can be an agent of change as a household.
MvA: It’s interesting, Edison had to invent the whole system around the light bulb, the network to make it function. Now, 100 years later, we turn it around.
LB: The ideas of mister Tesla were presented at the same time as Edison’s. He was his big competitor but at that time it was decided that everybody should be integrated into the networks of the energy companies. Tesla’s ideas have become relevant again because they answer the questions we are facing right now – How to be more independent and how to generate rather than consume. That’s one of the bigger ideas from 100 years ago that we reuse now. Sunne tells the much bigger story of our current days, of what we are facing right now.
MvA: If we look at Dutch history with windmills as energy producers, do you think we try to use the resources of nature again more?
LB: We have to and younger generations understand that this is going to happen. You can easily access know-how, like the one we used in the 16th century in the Netherlands already – how to pump water by using a mill, how to use wind, how to use water force and how to use the sun. All this knowledge has vanished in the 18th and 19th century with the industrial revolution. We started to reinvent knowledge and to understand how people organized their societies by using existing energy sources. I think we understand again how important it is and the good thing is that we have new technologies and new know-how that we can add that to the existing knowledge.