The idea of recycling has been around for a while. Especially in times of crisis, people tend to come up with increasingly creative ways to convert ostensible waste into reusable materials. And while De Bende build on this notion, their work space and ‘studio’ sets them apart: They simply use the city’s public space and invite everyone to join in the fun. Here, one person creates a design, another fetches hammer and nails while the third helps to assemble the result. A social experiment – and a successful attempt at bringing local residents together.

De Bende is a collective of young designers, artists and furniture makers
De Bende is a collective of young designers, artists and furniture makers

Faced with the enormous stream of waste generated by Rotterdam’s old Central Station, the group decided to tackle the tricky topic of construction ‘junk,’ by, for example, turning it into furniture. The consortium behind the station’s ambitious redevelopment (including the municipality of Rotterdam) quickly warmed to the idea and asked De Bende to come up with a conciliatory favor for those affected by the ongoing reconstruction efforts. Inspired by this challenge, the creative collective asked construction management for any discarded chipboard, tubes, or pieces of wood – and then invited anyone who lives in the station’s catchment area to pick out any bits they liked and turn them into something interesting. Always around to lend a helping hand, De Bende provided assistance, designs, tools, – and even some tasty muffins.

The resulting collaborative creations have started to pop up all over Rotterdam. Take the striking De Bende benches, which belie their recycled heritage – they easily rival standard street furniture in style and build quality. Other welcome additions to the city include a wooden fence that replaces the view of an urban wasteland with a stylized image of a male and female, constructed from wooden slats and finished with two heart-shaped spyholes to brighten up any passer’s-by perspective. More recently, the busy collective invited visitors of a local festival to restore old bicycles and manufacture their own carriers, mudguards, or infant seats.

At the same time, primping the urban environment is not De Bende’s ultimate goal. Instead, these idealists strive to raise awareness, encourage improvisation, and connect different people who might normally walk straight past each other. During festivals and workshops (both self-initiated and as part of commissioned projects) they help people to literally create things with their own hands. With a modicum of guidance, even those of us who are all thumbs can become ‘builders’ – or at least designers – of our cities.

Text: Kim Hoefnagels
All photos, incl. the header image, by: de Bende