On Wednesday I headed back over to Pieter De Raadtstraat to meet Guido inventor of the strange concoction of oranges in huge glass jars in the Stokerij window placed next to a washing machine. Guido lives and works at the top of the Pieter De Raadtstaat above the SidM offices. His floor mirrors that of the office but is one long room without any dividers and a bathroom instead of a kitchen. Guido has constructed the kitchen in his live work space next to the balcony where he is growing salad, herbs and a wild triffid-like tomato plant (the plants look very happy indeed!) There are some strange leaves in a bucket I don’t recognise but he tells me they are pumpkin and he just threw the seeds in to see what would happen. When I’ve grown pumpkin at home they need lots of space but here they seem to be growing ok, just small.
Plants feature largely in Guido’s living and working, he has several ‘rescue’ plants and the flat feels airy and healthy with them all thriving. The bed is in the middle along with wardrobes against the wall but somehow this works with the office at the end. There are different features Guido has kept from the original building – a door in the wall that has been uncovered with different layers of wallpaper alongside it and the old gas fire. Dutch city houses no longer run on gas so essentially this is now a museum piece.
Guido begins by telling me about his work with Stad in de Maak. His invention, the laundry soap is really only just the surface. There is a nice synergy about having the downstairs as a laundry because in the not so distant past (19th Century) the building was a water distillery which serviced the entire street for hot water. He says that in addition to water you need soap to wash so now this is what he provides, plus one washing machine for people in the street to use if they wish. The brand name is Van Blanckensteyn (a soap entrepreneur from a past century) and one of his inspirations is the book Blue Economy by Gunter Pauli that looks at the five kingdoms of nature: animals, plants, fungi, algae and bacteria and how we humans can work better with all of these . It was here in this book that they found the idea of using orange peel to create soap . Guido and his business partner Alex took the idea to the Department of Search (you can read about this in the previous blog) to try and work out the best process using fermentation (one of the oldest processes that uses bacteria) . At the Dept of Search people can bring their questions and are given some funding from the municipality to help them. Guido and Alex were of the first 12 artists that were funded by the Department. Now they have lots of people interested in their product including big companies such as the Facilities Service Centre of the city. The recently won a prize that has meant they have had business support such as workshops and mentors to help them with their brand. It was through this they realized their brand was not really the product itself but the mechanism and processes they invented in order to create their product. Their dream is that they can provide efficient machines so that all over the county (possibly the world!) where there are waste oranges people can utilise them to make useful products and therefore the energy is put back into the cycle. Of course, it doesn’t just stop at oranges – Guido is experimenting on lots of other plant products too. It is about looking at waste and utilising it so the energy goes back into something useful.
So far this business venture isn’t making any money, in fact, Guido says it is still costing money so he has a design business that he runs too, and a pretty successful one too. He creates furniture and is interested in public furniture that is temporary and that provokes interaction, helping people feel ‘comfortable’ inhabiting it ( I asked if he had seen the Playable City project as I thought it would be something of interest ). He says Rotterdam is changing as old industry disappears so the spaces are changing too. He is creating simple designs so that the process of making furniture is as quick as the design process . He has combined these two things with another of his ideas which I can see working as a pop up across the city and at festivals everywhere and that is his Zero Waste Juice bar.
He is of the belief (which I am hearing a lot this week) that: Knowledge comes from the practical . The ethos is about people being able to do things for themselves. Back to the washing liquid again, he is not really interested in ‘selling’ his product (he describe s it simply as a method of communication) but in empowering people to deal with their waste better. If they first come across the product and it helps them look at the world differently then great and as we all know you need a good story to engage people in the first place but for them it is the process that is key.
Guido is a busy person, as well as two businesses he is a daddy and he is teaching his son about his processes early. All over the flat are different jars, pots and plastic tubs of fermenting fruit and vegetables and already his son asks where everything that is being used comes from.
We talked about Stad in de Maak as he has been involved with the concept from the beginning. He says that there is more work than the directors can cope with right now. It is the impression I also get as they flit around from job to job and space to space all week getting things done. There are always things that need fixing, in fact while I was there, the floor was being dug up to check the foundations (houses in Rotterdam sit on poles at keep them out of the water!) and the community is pretty much left to do their own things without any intervention and often without enough support. A few people have mentioned this including Guido. It is particularly difficult for those just graduating or still studying as they often lack the confidence that say, Melle, Daan and Guido have, to just try something out and learn while they are doing it. Someone with a role like the one I have in the UK would be a valuable resource says Guido. Perhaps this is something I can help them set up for the future?