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The Presidency cultural programme: Sustainable furniture, made in Germany

Met dank overgenomen van Duits voorzitterschap Europese Unie 2e helft 2020 (Duits Voorzitterschap), gepubliceerd op zondag 18 oktober 2020.

Furnishing the offices of the Presidency of the Council of the EU in Brussels is one of the duties of each of the countries that takes on that role. Each six-month-long Presidency of the Council can highlight its home country and issues it finds particularly important.

© dpa

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The majority of the work of the Council of the European Union takes place in the Justus Lipsius Building (pictured) and in the Europa building in Brussels. “We would like to showcase a sustainable, creative and young Germany to the other EU member states,” says Daniel Greve, a member of the Planning Department of the Federal Foreign Office, which is responsible for designing and furnishing the rooms here during the German Presidency. “The rooms in Brussels where the work of the presidency takes place, where matters will be prepared, advised upon, debated and implemented should be functionally and clearly furnished with sustainable furniture.” Since sustainability is one of the core principles of Germany’s Council Presidency, Greve says, “we would like to show here that we support young, creative companies that are pioneers in sustainable furniture manufacturing with innovative concepts - made in Germany.”

© Jannicke Martin

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Bright light shines through the high windows of the Justus Lipsius Building’s spacious atrium facing the city of Brussels. Everyone heading to a council debate in the great hall comes through here. Round seating hubs in European blue invite guests to take a breather; interviews can be conducted in the relaxed atmosphere of the small seating groups with upholstered shell chairs. “We would like to create a room where Europeans can come into conversation with each other,” says Greve. The furniture comes from Walter Knoll, a traditional firm from Herrenberg that has believed for decades in longevity and high quality with style. Portraits by the photographer Carsten Sander (left) round out the ambiance. As a part of the cultural programme of the Germany's Presidency of the council of the EU, the Berlin artist is photographing people from all over Europe.

© Jannicke Martin

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Emerald, mauve, sable and copper - the Presidency’s rooms on Level 50 of the Justus Lipsius building gleam with warm colours. Ulrike Wattenbach, the interior designer for the Federal Foreign Office, transformed the room high above Brussels into a congenial lounge offering peace and quiet for political dialogue. The sofa hails from Frankfurt, where e15, a manufacturer founded in 1995 by the designer and architect Philipp Mainzer while he was still studying in London, is located. The first London headquarters’ postal code gave the label its name: E15. The company uses renewable raw materials such as wood or straw for its furniture, avoiding chemical additives as much as possible, and manufactures nearly exclusively in Europe. The modular Shiraz sofa, which Mainzer designed together with his wife, Iranian designer Fahrah Ebrahimi, received the Design Award of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2008.

© Jannicke Martin

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The couch tables in the presidency room are made of sections of trees from southern Germany. They are from the young south German furniture manufacturer Janua, which prizes timeless design and sustainable artistry. Natural materials and traditional methods belong to the company’s mission. The tables are either oiled or “blackened” - smoked in a slow process until a black, sturdy surface appears. “Many young creative labels experiment with new, exciting ideas,” according to Wattenbach. “Just in the last two or three years, sustainable furniture has gained a new momentum.”

© Jannicke Martin

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Two mint-coloured chairs add a fresh flavour to the Presidency rooms. They come from Freifrau, a furniture maker in North Rhine-Westphalia that has been making products from long-lasting, high quality materials since 2012. These pieces don’t just look good, they also feel great. Soft fabrics, fine leathers and heavy velours, all made in Germany. And the fact that these items will last counts: after the Presidency of the Council of the EU finishes, the whole collection will be heading to Brussels, to furnish the offices of the German ambassador there.

© Jannicke Martin

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Visitors usually only spend a short time in the waiting room next to the Presidency offices. The relaxed mix of seating in varying sizes and colours emphasizes the temporary nature of one’s stay there. The poufs come from the Kerman series by the design studio, e15. They are covered in fabric made from up to 45% recycled yarn waste. Other producers are also currently considering making furniture from waste products. Well known designer, Konstantin Gricic, originally from Munich, is collaborating with Italian furniture maker, Magis, on a stackable stool made out of 100% recycled plastic. “Developing something like that takes years,” says Wattenbach. “The recycled materials must meet the same demands as new materials and they are carefully scrutinized.”

© Jannicke Martin

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At first glance, the coarsely-structured yellow and mint-coloured carpets by Nomad Studio, under the seating in the waiting room look like they are made from wool. But a closer look at the colourful threads reveals a key feature: They are actually made out of 20% recycled sweets wrappers. Hamburg designer Jutta Werner collects the papers in sweets factories in Nepal and India and then weaves them together with wool to create a hard-wearing carpet. Her next project? A carpet made from old bicycle tires.

© Jannicke Martin

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Think about the environment. Make it sustainable. Those are the messages one hears coming from the many screens seen on the way to the European Parliament in Brussels and in the lobby of the Justus Lipsius Building. Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson has inspired European children to tell politicians their wishes for the future, via the Earth Speakr app he created. Using the app, the children can record messages, projecting their faces onto objects in their vicinity and then placing their animated statements on a virtual map of Europe. Thanks to the screens, the decision makers in Brussels hear the children’s voices as they pass by.

© AA

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​​​​​​​From Brussels to Berlin: this particular corner of the Atrium at the headquarters of the German Federal Foreign Office builds a metaphorical bridge between the seat of the Presidency of the Council of the EU to the heart of the German capital. The floor is covered by a carpet in striking EU blue, framed by information points where visitors can find out more about the German Council Presidency and outfitted with the same Kerman series’ seating found in the waiting rooms at the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels. This is an excellent spot to sit and have a relaxed discussion about Europe’s future. This is also where Michelle Müntefering, Minister of State for International Cultural Policy, met with some younger visitors in September. Before coming here the children had recorded their messages in the Foreign office’s own studio, as part of the Earth Speakr project. Müntefering was impressed with her visitors‘ enthusiasm: “It’s great that you are so committed, because it’s your future at stake. If people want to change things, they have to take action themselves,” she told the children.


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