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New Head of Design Cultures at the VU

Grace Lees-Maffei from the University of Hertfordshire in the UK will take over Timo de Rijk's former role as head of Design Cultures at the Vrije University in Amsterdam.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 17-10-2013

As we reported Timo de Rijk, who established the Design Cultures course at the Vrije University in Amsterdam resigned the post this August to take up a new position at Delft University of Technology and Leiden University.

Taking over that role is Dr Grace Lees-Maffei who will fly in weekly from the UK.

“I think one of the reasons I was invited to take on the visiting professorship is because Timo had been using a book I co-edited for the course,” says Lees-Maffei.  “I think in terms of curriculum they trust that there will be some continuity.”

That book – “The Design History Reader” looks at developments in design over three centuries. 

Currently Lees-Maffei is a part of the Design History School at the University of Hertfordshire.  There she teaches undergraduates graphics, illustration, and contemporary design and crafts.  She is also managing editor of the Journal of Design History.  

Speaking to Lees-Maffei is refreshingly honest.  She says her approach to teaching is probably quite different to De Rijk’s and also admits that teaching in the Netherlands thus far has taught her how British her approach is.

“It is part of my project to globalize design history,” she says,  “but being here and listening to myself in this context I realize how Anglo-centric I am.  Of course I need to tackle that immediately.”

Lees-Maffei traces that Anglo-centrism back to the fact that the history of design has been pioneered by mostly British design historians.  “The literature and history produced is consequently very British, or even English to be more specific. … names like William Morris and Robin Day come up, but of course that is all British design and British commentary.  In this course that should not be central.”

Lees-Maffei is particularly complimentary of the course she inherited from De Rijk calling it “excellent”.  “The fact that it attracts students from all around the world is indicative of the status it has achieved,” she says.

Students come in as both design practitioners and commentators – the course fits both approaches.  “Some students come from designs practice backgrounds and some come from the humanities,” Lees-Maffei says.  “Graduates can go on to a more informed, enriched, contextualized design practice or they can get involved in design criticism, history and analysis.”