The final stop on my trip is the port city of Rotterdam, which unlike Amsterdam or Utrecht—both steeped in centuries-old charm—was razed during World War II. Today it’s as chaotic and messy as any modern city in Holland could ever hope to be.
On the ground floor of a dreary 1960’s concrete block that’s slated for demolition in two years, I found another idealist who’s hoping to salvage the world through recycling. Studio Hergebruik (Studio Re-Use) was set up by Jan de Haas, a former organizational consultant, in 2005. There are no high-gloss, well-lit displays here; rather, it’s a motley collection of mostly amateur designs that set off every hippie alarm in my head. But amid the recycled bicycle inner-tube bags (big among Japanese teenagers) and a shelving system built inside an open coffin (low in finesse, high in humor), a few treasures could be found. Among them: vinyl records that have been heated and molded into fabulous Penman pencil holders, and a chandelier made of plastic-bottle bottoms that could easily double as 60’s Op Art.
Clearly, de Haas isn’t interested in visual merchandising, or design with a capital D. His goal is to showcase, rather than curate, every cradle-to-cradle experiment that comes along. He has never heard of Piet Hein Eek or Tejo Remy. For him this is a grassroots movement that’s happening in scattered pockets around the globe, a groundswell that’s about to break into a giant wave—one he’s already riding.
“I see this as similar to organic food,” he says. “In the 70’s I had to cycle for miles to get muesli. But now, even in department stores, I’m starting to see fair-trade everything and more recycled objects. In five years it’s going to be everywhere, and when that happens I’m going to be out of business.”
He can’t wait for the day.