Symbiosis is the name that was given by the designers to the table that formed the working centre at the Informal European Council meetings and various Informal Ministerial meetings in the course of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
Created and designed by SUSDESIGN studio, the piece is a pioneering and innovative instance of sustainability and the circular economy in the field of product design and is based on the industrial symbiosis concept.
The large modular table was wholly developed on the basis of the recovery of waste biomaterials, namely by-products of the Portuguese wine cork production and the Portuguese pine wood pallet industry.
What makes Symbiosis original and stand out is the advanced level of integration of multiple circular economy design strategies – including the selection of natural and renewable resources that at the same time are resources from industrial waste that are recycled, by means of design, to produce a new, aesthetically and functionally distinctive product or piece of equipment – in order to meet the differing needs and configurations of the diverse meetings during the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
The development of the Symbiosis table was based on the crossing of know-how from four important domestic industries — the creative industries (design), the furniture industry, the cork industry and the pine wood industry — and on conceptual synthesis work carried out on that basis with the aim of giving form to and producing an emblematic design piece centred around:
- A classic, timeless design with contrasting visual elements created by the light/dark effect that results from the contrast between the light-coloured pine wood and the darker toasted cork, with the sensorial characteristics of the materials adding warmth and softness of touch.
- The realisation of the design intent “form follows function, aesthetics and sustainability”, achieved through a blending of the piece’s functional aspects and its distinct formal language, resulting in front panels with horizontal lines that add continuity and render indiscernible the structure of the 48 individual modules that make up the piece.
- The use of digital manufacturing technologies combined with the unique nature of the manual work, with the aim of optimising manufacturing processes and minimising the environmental impact, while at the same time taking into consideration the local ecosystem resources and the involvement of communities from various regions of Portugal in the design of the table.
A number of different objectives and challenges were taken into consideration in the sustainable design of the Symbiosis table for the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union, including:
- Giving the Informal European Council meeting room and the plenary meeting rooms for the Ministerial Meetings functionality and comfort and aesthetic distinctiveness, while favouring visual elements that highlight the innovation and sustainability of the solutions adopted.
- Going for a personalised and differentiating design, and ensuring that Heads of State and delegates can perform their diplomatic functions while respecting the social distancing measures recommended by the health authorities.
- Incorporating a modular structure so as to allow for greater flexibility and diversity in terms of configurations and ease of assembly and disassembly, and also guarantee longevity of use through the easy repair of the constituent modules.
- Being easy to dismount and compactable, so as to facilitate storage and transport (in own packaging) to other spaces, locations and cities.
More than three decades after publication of the report “Our Common Future” by the UN, design for sustainable development and for the circular economy has gained renewed importance in the context of the European Green Deal. The latter has brought environmental issues, the need to make the economy more eco-efficient and the adoption of more sustainable lifestyles into the heart of the European political debate.
This is also an objective shared by the recent European Commission “New European Bauhaus” initiative, which highlights the importance of architecture, equipment design and industrial product design in terms of strategies aimed at implementing solutions that achieve the sustainable development goals that were announced in the historic “Our Common Future” document in 1987.
The original design premises for the meeting table used by the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union at high-level meetings, given the name “Symbiosis” by its designers, are also included in this context.