275. Doors and Windows of Amsterdam

Before I left New Zealand, a family friend of mine showed me a book she had made of photos she had collected of “Doors and Windows of Europe.” I guess it must have made quite the impact as it really made me notice and appreciate the charm and individuality found in shuttered windows with peeling paint, or elaborately decorated medieval doors, as spotted all over the continent.

I think there’s a few reasons I find them so charming. First, I find the old buildings that characterise each location beautiful, and a real novelty when you come from a very young country. Second, every window or doorway offers a hint of who might be behind it – from pot plants on a balcony to clothes lines between buildings – and each has its own individual character.

In Amsterdam, I really loved walking through the centre of town, along the canals and admiring all the buildings – especially as, unlike much of Europe, the adjoining buildings all had their own individual style as opposed to being one giant Coronation Street block. The same was true for the details of the buildings. So here’s a collection of photos of spots I found interesting, beautiful or unique, including Rembrandt’s house (below) and some really great, well designed shop fronts.

266. House of Bols

In Amsterdam we were met with some pretty disappointing weather, so indoor activities were bumped higher up the priority list. Thanks to the wonderful iPhone app that is Tripadvisor Cityguides, we were able to download a guide to all the attractions, with map locations and reviews, and even a compass feature that points you in the direction of an attraction/restaurant/bar, all without needing to be connected to the internet. With that, our scavenger hunt began.

The House of Bols turned out to be quite the hidden gem, and probably something we wouldn’t have stumbled across if it weren’t for the bad weather, and the Tripadvisor app! Bols, creater of the Dutch spirit Genever, was an unfamiliar name to me, but once I arrived and saw the bottles, a realised I had seen them before, probably many times on the back walls of bars.

I had always assumed they were just another version of cheap and cheerful flavoured liqueurs used for cocktails. As it turns out, Genever is an apparently famous type of spirit, with a price tag to match, and careful effort has been made to create a range of different flavours.

The tour of the House of Bols goes through the history of its creation, gives an opportunity to smell all of the flavours, watch panoramic films and most importantly, try a few cocktails and sample shots.

The thing I liked the most about it, being a marketing geek, was how well designed the displays were. Given I was paying for a tourist attraction for a drink I previously thought was cheap, and came out knowing all about the product and realising it was actually quite nice and far more upmarket, I’d say it was a pretty succesful marketing campaign on their part. Now they just need someone to make the bottles less tacky.

145. Design a Bar

As a total sucker for saying yes whenever anyone asks for help and any opportunity for a creative project, I volunteered to help design/decorate the Studenterhus Aarhus bar that was featuring at Northside Festival. The festival has this great system where sports teams and student associations can man bars in return for free tickets and exposure for their causes and they of course get free labour. On the food side of things, local restaurants and caterers provided the food, leading to fierce competition for the best food. So much deliciousness, hands down beating any festival food I have ever encountered.

The theme of the festival was sustainability, and Studenterhus wanted their bar to reflect that. One of the other great aspects of the festival was that there were a whole bunch of activities and initiatives throughout the whole area, not simply music and drinking. From the University having a tent promoting innovation and business ideas, to novel seating areas, to art projects, to Ping Pong tables from by favourite bar, Shen Mao. So of course they were being all very Danish and promoting sustainability.

My original proposal was to have the bar covered in grass – a really bright, visible way to promote the bar and the green theme and a relatively simple way to decorate it. What was a simple idea quickly became the kind of occasion where sayings like “a horse is a camel designed by committee” come from. From the festival continually changing how the bars were to be set up and all the measurements, to being accused of greenwashing and having to go through a process of investigating using real grass, to brewery reps who shat themselves the day before because they didn’t have enough visible branding, to having to include the city’s branded “with us” campaign.

Some of the inspiration:

The main issue was the sustainability/greenwashing one. Initially I had thought that a sustainability theme at a music festival was more a talking point than actually making the entire festival an environmentally friendly one. As it turned out, they did make a huge effort to have as many cups/bottles etc recyclable, though I’m not sure they could do much about food production, power usage etc. So the grass covered bar turned to investigating “environmental grafiti” – where you make a moss mixture and it grows exactly where you paint it. Unfortunately timing and logistics meant that one didn’t work either. I would still love to do something with it though!

Finally, with the help of the University gardener, we discovered the ivy that grows all over the main campus buildings was about to be cut down from one of the buildings and we could use some of that. Perfect! It was also fitting that being the University student bar, we would then be covering it with the University’s iconic ivy. So the day before we spent an hour or two hacking away at one of the buildings, and attached the ivy to chicken wire that was around the tent poles. When getting hardware materials we came across some grassy carpet that we used to cover the front of the bar (as instructed by the festival organisers), only to have a Royal Brewery Rep have a giant tantrum over covering their logo. Some quick thinking managed to smooth over that problem and we were good to go! The final touch was a hefty dosage of fairy lights, and I must say, we definitely had the best looking bar at the festival! And as predicted, everyone was too busy drinking and enjoying the music to care what materials it was made of. Nonetheless, I had a lot of fun, from coming up with the idea, dealing with all the various interests to come up with something that worked and actually installing it, despite it being quite different from the original vision.

One of the iconic Aarhus University ivy covered buildings

Running off with our spoils

Ivy: From campus to Northside

Keeping with the City’s “With (Aarh)Us” campaign

Some quick thinking to keep the sponsors happy

The end result, minus the fairy lights in the evening

The neighbouring Innoside tent decided they quite liked our ivy too

The bar in action

…And with the lights at night

83. The Design Capital of The World

I’m not sure how it is judged, or what entitles one to be the design capital of the world for just one year, but apparently Helsinki is it for 2012.

Aside from the advertising everywhere, including some giant pillars ensuring I knew it was the design capital, the main giveaway is Helsinki’s Design District. I highlight of the trip was definitely the Design Museum, which had some fascinating exhibits, featuring innovative products (literally) solving the world’s problems. I couldn’t help but giggle at the fact that it was very clear that the curator wanted the world to know he is NOT an artist, and that design and art a very different, with variations on the ‘function over form’ message all over the show.

Throughout the rest of the Design District there were a number of cool shops, hosting novel furniture creations, to clothes to kitchen wares. It was a really fun little area to check out, and very inspiring!