Edition 2016 of the Henry van de Velde Awards has ended and we can look back on it with a heartwarming feeling. The winners of the 25th edition of the Henry van de Velde Awards were celebrated on 19 January 2017 at the Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels. In this article we give you a little explanation about the winners and the reason why the jury selected these three for the Special Design Awards 2016.

The members of the jury were asked to choose winners for the Special Awards who can serve as an inspiring role model both inside and outside the design sector for successful and future-oriented social, innovative and creative entrepreneurship. These Special Awards consist of three Awards:

  • Henry van de Velde Lifetime Achievement Award: this award honours a designer or design studio that is active for at least 35 years and that has had a considerable impact with his design activities on various levels: economical, socially and/or (inter)national. 
  • Henry van de Velde Company Award: this award is dedicated to companies, organisations and governments that use design(ers) strategically for their enterprise or institution. The award rewards good clientship in relation to design. Important criteria are professionalism in working with design(ers), strategy, sustainability and innovation. 
  • Henry van de Velde Young Talent Award: this award is a stimulation for a young talent or a young design office. Young is defined as being active for a maximum of 10 years within the design sector. During judging, the focus is on the designer or the design office. The quality of the complete portfolio is considered. 

They selected Kristel Van Ael and Joannes Vandermeulen (partners at the Namahn office) for the Lifetime Achievement Award, Rotor Deconstruction for the Company Award and Young Talent Pieter-Jan Pieters.

Lifetime Achievement: Kristel Van Ael and Joannes Vandermeulen

Joannes Vandermeulen founded Namahn in 1987 as a one-person consultancy in Brussels, helping companies to define, refine and improve their technology and software offerings towards end users. As the consultancy grew, Joannes was not content with only bringing innovation to clients and he started working on user experience. With Kristel’s arrival in 2007, Namahn gained its first outright ‘visual thinker’. She brought a new language and a new way of seeing. She provided a bridge to the design community and positioned Namahn towards that world at a time when designers were only just beginning to enter the digital arena.

Namahn has moved more and more towards designing solutions for complex and critical systems. Both Kristel and Joannes realized that their existing methodologies were unable to handle these new complexities. So they set about designing new ones. Their goal is to do significant things for people, to do more and on a bigger scale.

Namahn partners Kristel Van Ael & Joannes Vandermeulen

The jury:

Kristel Van Ael and Joannes Vandermeulen are the founding partners of the Namahn design agency, specialised in human-centered design and one of the world’s leading agencies when it comes to digital, user experience and service design. Kristel Van Ael and Joannes Vandermeulen complement each other very well as a team; they are prolific and quite mature in their design practice. They receive frequent attention from the international design community. The jury is of the opinion that the agency has yet to reach its growth potential and envisages continued international expansion, a day at a time.

It is without hesitation, then, that the jury describes Van Ael and Vandermeulen as trendsetters. It’s not just that the agency is a leading design services supplier, but it’s also because it’s actively involved in the development and promotion of new design forms. That has made their agency a centre that actively contributes to the worldwide definition of design.

The jury especially commends their hard work
 in the field of educational tool development, open knowledge sharing and the tremendous commitment to social objectives as trendsetters. In other words, the jury identifies Kristel Van Ael and Joannes Vandermeulen as a prime example for any design agency that are enthusiastically looking to include globally recognised substantial expertise, successful international entrepreneurship and an extremely dedicated work method as the hallmarks of its professional activity.

Company: Rotor Deconstruction

Rotor Deconstruction is an autonomous side-project of Rotor, a Brussels-based non-profit, created in 2005, engaged in promoting and facilitating the re-use of building components as a strategy on the path towards a more resource-efficient materials economy. Its main focus is the reclaiming of re-usable parts of postwar and modern architecture. 

In 2012-2013, Rotor conducted a survey of all existing dealers in second hand building materials in Belgium. The results of that survey are public: opalis.be. Doing this study, Rotor realized that, despite an increasing professionalization of the sector, many vendors are still focusing on rustic materials destined for the domestic, (neo-)rural market. Few of them are geared to selling what comes out of large building compounds of the service sector, which make out the bulk of demolition debris in metropolitan areas such as the Brussels Region. Rotor Deconstruction grew out of the realization that certain dots here needed urgent connexion.

Dismantling of the headquarters in Brussels of BNP Paribas Fortis. Photo Rotor

Renovation of the Civil Engineering building (Val Benoit, Spi). Photo Olivier Beart

The jury:

Vilvoorde-based Rotor Deconstruction was established and has been selected as the winner of the Henry van de Velde Company Award because from the very beginning Rotor has taken consistent, coherent action to stimulate building materials recycling in architecture and interior design. What’s more, it’s man, aged to do this while adding value from an aesthetic and above all, accessible artistic point of view.

The jury commends Rotor Deconstruction for its outstanding fusion of theory, practice and artistic interpretation. Whereas initially Rotor Deconstruction was primarily conceived to identify waste streams from semi-industrial demolition projects, it went on to switch gears to include the collection and offering of these materials for a second life. By necessity, then, the organisation is made up of workers concerned with the practicalities, theoreticians concerned with the issue of sustainability and exhibition designers who know how to bring it all to life. What is most striking is the combination of employees representing a range of ideologies, and how their interaction and cross-pollination takes the company to a higher level. This innovative means of setting up an organisation really impressed the jury, who sees it as an exciting business model innovation.

Convinced of the ecological, cultural and economic need to recycle all building materials, the jury especially commends Rotor Deconstruction’s work with materials specifically originating from post-war architecture. In presenting this Henry van de Velde Company Award the jury also wishes to emphatically recognise Rotor Deconstruction and support its categorisation, protection and redistribution of Belgium’s post-war architectural heritage.

Young Talent: Pieter-Jan Pieters

Pieter-Jan Pieters studied at the Design Academy Eindhoven. He graduated in Man & Mobility. After graduating, he launched his graduation work on Kickstarter, with amazing results. He founded OWOW (the Omnipresent World Of Wizkids). Some years later, OWOW is a team of some 10 persons. OWOW is highly active in the music industry with a strong focus on music, design and technology. It develops its own range of musical instruments and does other music related initiatives or projects for brands they like.

Pieter-Jan Pieters

The jury:

Pieter-Jan Pieters always know how to bring a smile to everyone’s face with his work. The jury commends this young designer for his playful inventiveness, in combination with the particularly high quality of his product development process. Pieters is light-hearted and inventive in his design approach: a quality which many clients really appreciate. Even his motto - not doing exactly what the client asks for - flies in the face of traditional design practice, and the jury commends this for its conspicuousness and daring. 

His agency in Eindhoven, OWOW, got off to a particularly good start about four years ago; the Kickstarter project he launched to give his graduate project an extra boost in the market at that time has really been able to count on the attention of the 14-member jury. But now Pieter-Jan Pieters is back on our radar, because OWOW employs a small staff of about ten and is already raking in national and international contracts. To keep this up, in-house skills are regularly developed and honed based on what the client needs, and the young agency keeps growing as a result. The jury sees Pieters as a promising young talent because he has managed to extend his initial success without sacrificing his particularly playful way of doing things.

Watch the movies of these three winners and the laureates of the Design Solutions Awards here!