Huttenfestival de Vlek

De Vlek


Huttenfestival de Vlek   Hut Festival ‘The Stain’ Putting the Duchy of Brabant on the (inter)national map.

Railway Zone (Spoorzone), Tilburg, Brabant, The Netherlands
Saturday 3rd September until Sunday 11th September 2011.

Eileen Woods was invited by Observatorium, the Dutch arts group and the producers of De Vlek to participate in this event. Working with Observatorium she helped realise their Home Depot and RTown town register installations, and created to the event blog, ‘Post from London’ for the event website and produced a short film about Observatorium.

Hut Festival ‘The Stain’ (Huttenfestival de Vlek) was a unique collaboration of artists, designers, architects, entertainers and visitors of all ages working together to create The Stain’ (‘De Vlek’) a real working village complete with a village square, a theatre, a factory, a pub/restaurant, a large fireplace and a playground.

Why De Vlek, ‘The Stain? A ‘stain’ is the name that was used to call a (temporary) settlement in times gone by. These settlements were entitled to special rights. The shape of each settlement was determined by the environment, using construction materials that were available at that time. This principle is the inspiration for the idea of Huttenfestival de Vlek.

An impressive list of designers and architects contributed creative ideas, sketches and drawings for huts and do-it-yourself architecture in the temporary village: Onix Architects from Groningen, Studio Boot from Den Bosch, Detours from Denmark, La Bolleur from Eindhoven, Observatorium from Rotterdam, Frank Havermans from Heeswijk, Piet Hein Eek from Eindhoven, Hilberink Bosch Architects from Berlicum and 2012 Architecten from Rotterdam. A committed group of building professionals joined the teams to realise the designs, with entertainers and chefs bringing the village to life.

De Vlek QR codeTERRAIN Blog no. 1   The meaning of life or nothing at all.
3 September 2011

The QR (quick response) code is fast becoming the new language – no words, no numbers. No meaning unless you have the technology to translate. No technology, no meaning. Another divide, of Grand Canyon proportions between the knowing and the unknowing.

De Vlek is populated by codes with the international language of numbers and letters. Planks of wood, junction boxes, single brackets, signal switches, bolts all carry codes which were vital pieces of information and are now untranslatable. Somewhere there is an army of people (living and dead) who keep the records of the codes in ledgers, in files, on faded pieces of paper, on floppy discs. If we don’t know what it means, do we need to know what it means?  Does it make you anxious, curious or nostalgic?

Surrounded by fences, viewed from the railway platform, De Vlek is like an urban experimental spectacle, a public space Big Brother. Architects, artists, performers, caterers are all on show, like separate tribes gathering at the watering hole (another circle) to make a new village, and one tribe, to bring the ‘fire’ to this place. We are a resilient species.

TERRAIN Blog no. 2   A map of Brabant  5 September 2011

map of brabant

Where to start the story of De Vlek? There are many reasons and layers of importance for this project; anyone layer is interesting: the big picture of regional development for the Brabant, the medium picture of the De Vlek site transformation from transportation to commerce, the concepts of the artists, architects and performers whose work responds to the site. The challenge is to communicate the whole story.

Talking to Ellen Altenburg about how De Vlek progressed through the approvals and permissions process, I asked the question about the NO people: people who say NO to change whether temporary or permanent and particularly those who say NO about change in public spaces. Tell me about the people who said NO to the project, and to my
complete surprise, she said there were no NO people. There were only YES people.

The ‘huts’ are taking shape. The atmosphere is very positive as pieces fit together, hold together. Frequent visits to the HOME DEPOT materials yard, to forage for that perfect plank or wedge. Does the previous life of the materials inform their use in new structures in De Vlek- do we hear the footsteps that walked across the floorboards, do the planks complain when they are vertical instead of horizontal? The pallets that carried bags of plaster and stacks of bricks now shape floors and walls.

Children here are in the best playground ever, with real tools and big pieces of splintery wood and guiding hands teaching them the mystery of the Makita and how to construct, replacing toy plastic parts and instruction sheets. The child’s instinct for building the nest manifests itself in making dens from chairs, tables, tablecloths, or tree branches and leaves. Shelter and fun.


The Town Records sign became RTOWN. Was this an example of the code of shortspeak, or twitter type, or was it a young designer instinctively shortening the word and the work time. Either way, people are drawn through the arch to the REGISTER, where they are invited by artist Andre Dekker (Observatorium) and instructed to record their personal details and their thoughts about De Vlek in whatever way they choose. Andre makes a parallel record of their presence through pen and ink drawings. The ritual of recording and the value of this legacy prompts creative, sensitive and provocative entries.

Heavy rain stops play. Last night, on the train, as we pulled out of the station, big dark clouds appeared and let fall a big sudden rainstorm on De Vlek, followed by sunshine from the west and an intense rainbow joined soon after by a second shadowy rainbow. We thought what did early man think of this meteorological phenomenon; water- sun-colour, all coming from the same sky.

New people arrive. The sounds of building increases. Walls rise. And the people on Tilburg station as they wait for their trains look down through the railings as De Vlek takes shape, and some of them will find their way here.

TERRAIN Blog no. 3   Rain-Sun-Colour-Food  6 September 2011


Instead of slowing the construction progress around De Vlek, the rain seems to be generating more energy, and the structures are growing rapidly. More people building, balancing, hanging off, perching, stretching, eating, laughing.

Each day the village, like a pioneer outpost becomes more populated and a collection of caravans has created the De Vlek ‘suburbs. Today the restaurant is being built and a band of young musicians rehearses. The pages of the Town Register are filling up. Tomorrow the tree and the chickens arrive.

And each day more people come to visit, perform, work. We’ve exchanged the unfamiliarity of the few in a foreign land, with the comfort of community in a space we have colonised. We will be a ‘destination’.

Throughout this week I have been thinking of public spaces which recently have been the focus of political upheaval and regime change – Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Tripoli’s Green Square, Bahrain’s Pearl Square, and Tehran’s Valiasr Square -examples of public places central to each country’s uprisings. We watched the ritual, brutal destruction of hated rulers’ statues, murals, posters, as people reclaimed their cities and towns. How a place resonates or is silenced by design is something we are exploring at De Vlek.

Each day we hear a gentle woman’s voice making announcements over the train station sound system. I can’t understand what she is saying, but the quality of her voice is reassuring. On Sunday I missed hearing her voice, which brought with it the expectation and tension of travelling, the familiar and the unknown. I asked why there were no announcements- and the answer was because all the trains are on time.

TERRAIN Blog no. 4  The Joy of Building  9 September 2011

Blog 4

De Vlek is ‘officially’ open. There is a great sense of achievement- and rightly so. De Vlek is a material metaphor for what can be achieved through co-operation and commitment. ‘The idea of the public points to the “us” of art, to communication, community, common space and shared ground; a richer conception of audience.

‘The idea of democracy points to the ideals of equality, participation and justice; and identifies in imagination a fundamental affinity between the arts and democratic life; the idea of interdependence points to the cosmopolitan, the universal, a world without boundaries or borders; a world that demands to be recognized but has been largely neglected, even denied, by the parochial and insular for whom walls are a form of security — by almost everyone except artists.’
Benjamin Barber

The democratic nature of public spaces is in transition, with increasing legislation defining what we can and cannot do in spaces that are public. As I looked at the abstracted 5 towers construction, a jet fighter screamed across the sky and I couldn’t help but think of the World Trade Towers in NY, with the 10th anniversary of the destruction of these buildings on Sunday. Tall buildings everywhere were suddenly seen as targets of terrorism, and the spaces around them as no-go zones. The concept of De Vlek is the civilizing force, the glue which holds our society together.

Common space, common ground
something’s landed upside down,
in a heap or at least that’s how it looks.
It’s hard to tell
if it fell the right way up,
the wrong way round
or crashed and spilt its insides out across the common ground.
It’s hard to tell if it fell from outer space
or off some corporate dinner plate.
Was it built by another race?
Now look, like I said it’s very hard to tell
but a plaque here says it’s public art
so it could be that, as well.
[Doesn’t it make you wonder….eh?]

Mark Gwynne-Jones, from Whose Common Now,  for the Art of Common Space 2008.

TERRAIN Blog no. 5  Culture, commerce and community  10 September 2011

Saturday afternoon and De Vlek was populated with families, friends and colleagues, claiming the site and the structures in ways we could have imagined but not predicted.

The three basic elements of a place, culture, commerce and community were thriving. There was governance as well, a city-state managing to keep order, prosperity and security. Through the week I was surprised and pleased to see that people (including myself) left valuable items- bags, computers, phones, cameras on tables and shelves, without much worry, as though we were at home. But also because I never felt there were strangers in the house, no one who didn’t belong. Which means the attraction of De Vlek was clearly defined, although not in physical evidence, but in a cultural language. I wonder how De Vlek would have responded to a visitation of people intent on ‘regime change’, challenging our social playground; through the build up week we watched as adventurous members of the public came to explore, free to roam. But now with an entrance fee, we were, after all, a ‘gated community’. No bye-laws posted, no keep out signs, common to public spaces.

All around the site new micro businesses were thriving- woodworking, freshly laid, free range eggs, textiles, the brewery, theatre, the restaurant- and then the inevitable outcome of regeneration: in a flash the factory was closed, boarded up and transformed into a gallery space. Old commerce makes way for new culture which brings new commerce. Another language, read the signs. The Museum, housed in the Home Depot wall, which at first attracted a dazzling display of primitive art was sadly neglected and unloved, but not gone, and boasting a sign for the souvenir shop, with local crafts coming soon.

And the children ran riot everywhere, making the whole of De Vlek their playground. Is it too romantic to think that this experience will stay in their young minds as memories of what a new community in Tilburg should be like?