The Netherlands is proud of having a social democratic system that equalizes everybody and excludes no one. This concept is symbolized in landscaping, transportation systems, social housing and a well defined public space where everybody is welcome.

A collaboration of artists, designers, architects and analysts united under the name Flakland explored if this is really true. Roaming the Dutch countryside for a year in search of gated communities, they found many sophisticated and well-camouflaged enclaves within the system.

The search resulted in a board game, a conference with KaAP and a P-travel in collaboration with the academy of architecture, to and about the many typical Dutch gated communities.

Research location
The Netherlands

Symposium location
H.K.A. Arnhem

P-travel location

Initiated by
Pier Taylor

Pier Taylor, Melle Smets, Marten Terpstra, Joost van Onna

Research team
Pier Taylor, Eddy Wegman, Mark Holtmann, Jarl Schulp, Rob Groot Zevert, Hans Jungerius, Marten Terpstra, Joost van Onna, Melle Smets

Commissioned by
KaAP, Academie van Bouwkunst Arnhem

Lecture about the Turtle 1, made of European discarded car parts that were once exported to Ghana and reincarnated into a one-of-its-kind automobile. In collaboration with the local community of Suame Magazine, Melle Smets and Joost van Onna set up shop, making use of the artisan culture of re-use and inventiveness which is largely unknown to Westerners.

The lecture explores the complexity how different cultures meet and clash at the same time. Follow the Turtle 1 and learn about prepossessed perception and how we are all stuck in it.

Smets develloped a lecture about how good intentions in urban design sometimes end up as control design, not leaving any room for the unexpected and adventurous. This attempt to build paradise on earth is somehow irresistible to keep trying.

This lecture reflects on various locations where paradise ended up in something else.

537 kilograms. That is the amount of waste we annually produce per person, usually without realising it. From plastic to glass, from diapers to paper: our garbage tells more about who we are than we generally dare to admit, something the men from the garbage analysis service (VAD) can whole-heartedly confirm. For ten days, Smets and Bram Esser went hunting for the festival waste at Noorderzon, in appropriate attire. They cleaned, sorted and questioned everything that could pass for waste. What is the secret behind the skewer? Why do stage builders use so much gaffer tape? The results of their hard work were presented in a sparkling performance, facing the visitors the hard facts.

Commissioned by
Platform GRAS and Noorderzon

Concept & realisation
Bram Esser, Melle Smets, Peter Machiel Schaap, Cecile de Milliano

Noorderzon festival Groningen

Summer 2012

Thanks to
Nis Baar, Onno de Jong, Richard Oosterloo, Piet Ottens, Arnout Dieleman, Pek van Andel

Arno van der Heyden website & audio report
Artist Melle Smets and philosopher Bram Esser spent four weeks non-stop in the world of petrol stations, service areas and business parks. While their journey led along motels, emergency telephone poles and gay cruising areas throughout the Netherlands, they portrayed the people and places in the mobility landscape.

Melle Smets, Bram Esser, Eva van Ginhoven, Olivier Otten, Simon van Kray

Highways from The Netherlands

October - November 2009

Roosendaal, M. T. ’Weg van de snelweg'. De Telegraaf, 10-24-2009
Witman, B. ‘De snelweg als huiskamer'. Volkskrant, 10-16-2009
‘Bijzonder duo op snelwegsafari’. Omroep Gelderland TV, 10-26-2009
‘Snelwegsafari’. ATLAS, LLINK Radio 1, 10-18-2009
‘Snelwegsafari’. De Avonden, VPRO Radio 6, 10-19-2009
‘Een kunstenaar een filosoof en een auto'. BNR Nieuws, BNR Radio, 10-16-2009
‘Kunstenaars bivakkeren 24 uur op de snelweg’. Omroep Brabant TV, 10-16-2009
‘Een maand lang op en langs de snelweg leven’. Rijnmond TV, 10-16-2009 ‘Snelwegmuseum’. Cappuccino, NCRV Radio 2, 10-3-2009

Millions of things we surround ourselves with are labelled ‘Made in China’. Although they are manufactured at the end of the world, these products – varying from Christmas decorations to promotional gifts – have become part of our everyday environment. But how exactly do the Chinese know what items we like to put in our windowsills, and how are these products manufactured?

Melle Smets and Maurits Hertzberger embarked on a quest to China in search of the source of the so-called plastic river. Travelling in the guise of the Olympic Trade Mission promoting the Chinese product in The Netherlands, the two portrayed the various manufacturing stages the products go through in order to get from factory to consumer. The Trade Mission resulted in a publication.

Authors: Maurits Herzberger, Melle Smets
Graphic design: Paul Swagerman
PR: Eva van Ginhoven

Production & location
Museum De Paviljoens Almere

August 2008

‘Olympic Trade Mission'. Chinese CRTV, 8-31-2008
‘Kunstenaars terug uit Peking’. NOS News, Radio 1, 8-23 -2008
‘Hoe kun je het ongeplande plannen’. Putter, M. in LucasX, no 4, October 2008

Through the manifestation Autonië, mobile development bureau OpTrek explored the potential of the car and new mobility as a driver for development and innovation in business area De Binckhorst in The Hague.

In over a 100 years, De Binckhorst developed a unique blend of businesses, from which the car industry used to be the greatest. City Factory Binckhorst provides the place a new impetus in the form of the revaluation of the existing wealth of crafts, initiatives and inventiveness.

With De Binkhorst having the space, workshops and expertise at its disposal, it proves easy to deliver all kinds of customized products, but also to maintain and store them. The City Factory can build a bridge between new technology and the older manufacturing industry; cloud technology is able to make each workshop, craftsman and machine visible now. New connections are established putting a product central, not the company. Besides, the repair shops can use their expertise in new areas: a body shop welding garden furniture, a revision mechanic fixing lawnmowers, a refinisher painting furniture. De Binckhorst as the first self-organising factory town in the Netherlands!

Commissioned by

Binckhorst Den Haag


Kunstenlab held a competition for the gaunt and anonymous, urine-scented rest areas along the highways. New designs should lead to a familiar, safe, clean, beautiful, peaceful and 'identity-full' parking lot, where the weary motorist can enjoy the local qualities.

Together with Stefan Bendiks and Joost Janmaat, Smets noted that the highway doesn't allow for beauty or human scale: it is a world of simplicity and only a set of rules: get out and drive! Thus, they set out for a design dictated by the rules, very much like Hugh Ferriss did with the New York zoning law of 1916, when he had already made the sketches for the future Manhattan. The design did not try to relate to its rural and cultural environments, but to the highway itself: the rest area relates more to faraway Minsk than nearby Deventer.

This resulted in a feast of highway typologies: asphalt slabs, an advertising column and a massive, functionless gas station. They created a folly that only provides the most basic functions, and does not seek to be either pretty or intimate.

Commissioned by
KunstenLab, Province of Overijssel, Rijkswaterstaat

Melle Smets, Stefan Bendiks (Artgineering), Joost Janmaat (PartizanPublik)

Rest area de Boermark

September 2010

‘Folly'. Catalogue Vliegwielproject A1-zone, Verzorgingsplaats Boermark. Issue Programmateam A1-zone, November 2010, p. 50-68

Fort Altena is part of the Dutch Waterline, a military line of defence dating from the 17th century. In 1959, the fort had not been denominated yet as part of our cultural heritage. As a consequence, the A27 highway now runs straight through the monument. After the decision had been made to broaden the A27, the fort was still in the way. Participants of the competition developed ideas for the possible preservation of the fort, while integrating the highway in this design.

Commissioned by
NBKS, Rijkswaterstaat, Steunpunt Routeontwerp

In collaboration with

Fort Altena, Werkendam

September 2007

‘Verzorgingsplaats Fort Altena'. Catalogue: Fort Altena aan de A27: 10 ontwerpen. Issue Noord-Brabantse Kunst Stichting, 2008, p.32-38

Public lease garden proposes to return all unused lots, neglected public gardens and murky dog walking areas to the residents of the district of Klarenbeek in Middelburg by putting them up for lease. Everybody can rent a piece of public space and set it up to his own liking. It could be for personal gain, for example by turning it into a private parking space, or for the benefit of the community, like a barbecue area or a children’s playground. Larger lots offer enough space for big events, like a sports day or a fair for the entire city.

Commissioned by
SBKM, Municipality of Middelburg


January 2008