Buro Belén pushes material boundaries to enhance daily living
Dutch designers Brecht Duijf and Lenneke Langenhuijsen of Buro Belén – named by Formafantasma as one of 25 creative leaders of the future in Wallpaper’s 25th Anniversary Issue ‘5x5’ project – explore materials and space
Dutch designers Brecht Duijf and Lenneke Langenhuijsen graduated from the Man and Wellbeing programme at Design Academy Eindhoven four years apart. They met in Milan in 2011, as they were unpacking their respective works at Salone del Mobile. ‘Our products had exactly the same colours,’ the pair recall. ‘From that moment on we started to meet once in a while and soon we started collaborating.’
Beyond colours, their shared interests formed a fertile ground for collaboration: while Duijf focused on researching the reflective potential of materials, from mirrors and beyond, Langenhuijsen looked at how wood can be made flexible, bending it and manipulating it to the point of becoming textile. The duo’s explorations have seen Buro Belén named as one of 25 creative leaders of the future by Formafantasma, for Wallpaper’s 25th Anniversary Issue ‘5x5’ project.
Buro Belén: key questions for design
Working together under the Buro Belén aegis (‘Just a name we both find beautiful,’ they say), their projects originate from an interest in and connection to the material and spatial world. They always start with an analysis of their context and a series of guiding questions: ‘What materials are available? What are their different appearances? What could they be used for? How can we make sure that [a product] ages or cycles in an interesting way?’
From this inquisitive starting point, they look at their surroundings’ past and potential future, they say, ‘respecting old layers and adding new smart layers, to bring a place into the present and enrich its soul’.
Among their key projects so far they name Living Colours (2015), which explored natural colourants and featured a ‘De-Colourchart’ that shows how colour as matter is alive and changes over time, inspiring creatives to ‘design within time’, factoring ageing into a product’s design.
Sun+ (2018) is based on broader material research, questioning humans’ relation to the sun through history and culture, looking both at overexposure and the use of sunscreen. It resulted in a series of textile products including a pair of ‘Unseen’ sunglasses, a ‘Vitamin’ hat and ‘Suntent’, ‘Shade Cloths’ and the ‘Prosol D’ parasol (some of which were acquired by MoMA), illustrating ‘the alternative ways – and alternative materials – we can use for a healthy and clean way of living under the sun’.
Another seminal project was their first solo exhibition, titled ‘Soft Borders’ and shown at Amsterdam’s Looiersgracht 60 in 2018. For the designers, seeing their different material research projects come together into a space was a valuable experience, one that set their path in the direction of interior design, with their first project currently in the works. Other future endeavours will focus on walls: ‘They are our third skin in a way,’ they say. ‘Walls are our connection, or maybe disconnection, to the outside world: how do they impact our behaviour? How can they become less definitive, less static? How can they grow with our changing relationship with “the outside world”?’
For Duijf and Langenhuijsen, this focus on immediate surroundings should be a key aspect in a designer’s outlook, especially for younger generations approaching design practice. ‘Study your surroundings, and you’ll see possible projects that need a creative mind,’ they say. ‘Don’t think as big as the world’s problems. It will kill your skill of seeing possibilities.’ §