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Design and Society in Amsterdam: Visualizing the Invisible

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Term Offered: 
Approximate Dates of Instruction: 
June 20, 2016 to August 12, 2016
Application Deadline: 
February 12, 2016
Info Session: Thursday, January 14, 2016, 4:30-6:00 in Padelford C101

The Netherlands is a country, literally, by design. Located below sea level on the stormy North Sea, the Dutch have been forced to defend themselves against threatening floods for centuries. This Dutch vigilance and ingenuity leads designers not only to design solutions, but also to an approach which views design as intimately entangled with geography, society, and politics. Dutch design is uniquely motivated by the constant demand for creativity in facing complex social, economic, and cultural problems.

Following the Dutch model, this study abroad program suggests that “art works” and “design objects” are not isolated objects with no social or political import; rather, what we call “objects” are actually dynamic systems entangled in complex (material, spatial, temporal) networks that are very often invisible. We apply this methodology to every “object” we encounter, including ourselves. Students are also encouraged to consider human relations to the designed world, and to “visualize” the myriad ways design is always involved in ever-expanding environments.

Intimately engaged with its surroundings, the Dutch design sensibility tends to “remix” existing elements to produce sustainable hybrids and craft a particular quality of life. In the last three decades, Dutch design has emerged as an internationally recognized force. Its influence and appeal stems from a unique combination of its experimental and innovative qualities, its numerous prestigious design academies (Eindhoven, Gerrit Reitveld Academy, Utrecht School of the Arts), and its strong governmental support for new designers --not to mention, a rigorous marketing plan.

The Netherlands thus provides a unique landscape on which to explore design on multiple scales: geography, architecture, urban planning, furniture, fashion, food and agriculture, industrial, and communication. Following the Dutch model, our study in Amsterdam engages with design at multiple levels. Working with local artists and designers, students will visit studios and museums; they will study the history and witness the contexts, materials, concepts, and applications of Dutch design. Students will attend local events at Foam Lab and Hotel Droog, and enter the contemporary discussions on design. Reflecting on the role of humans as designers, students will be encouraged to locate themselves within a design mentality and to engage with design as operating at all levels. Students will engage in creative writing, thinking, and collaging projects, both collectively and alone. Finally, students will wrap up their immersive experience in Amsterdam by creating a final design project. 

For more information, visit

  • CHID 471: Dutch Design (5 credits VLPA, I&S)
  • CHID 390: Colloquium in the History of Ideas (5 credits I&S)
  • CHID 480: Design Ecologies (5 credits I&S)
Fulfills Requirements: 
CHID Ideas in the World
CHID 390
I&S Credit
VLPA Credit
Total Program Fees: 

*Note that the fees stated above do not include some additional costs, including, but not limited to: airfare, Study Abroad Insurance ($2/mo), and personal spending money. Remember that these costs will differ by program. Be sure to read our Fees, Financing, and Withdrawal information for details about the fee structure and payment schedule.