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24 June 2024 | Theme story

Design as a catalyst for human connection

In a world where we are increasingly faced with environmental challenges, the interaction between people and the planet is a priority more than ever, with our quest for togetherness, inclusiveness and sustainability serving as a guiding principle.

Our planet faces growing environmental problems, and the relationship between people and the planet is becoming a major point of attention. For Dirk Wynants, the founder of high-end design furniture brand Extremis, this means going one step further. For thirty years, he has been pushing the boundaries of innovative design and functionality with his 'Tools for Togetherness'. He is inspired by social change, striving to promote social interaction and harmony between people and their environment with outdoor furniture that transcends the principles of form follows function. Earlier this year, he was awarded the Henry van de Velde Lifetime Achievement Award for his endeavours. A recognition of his pioneering work in promoting the symbiosis between design, human connection, and sustainability.

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Dirk Wynants believes in a more integrated approach to sustainability, transcending the superficial aspect of furniture design. His 'Tools for Togetherness' capture the power of holistic design, where every life-cycle stage, from raw materials to distribution, is carefully considered to minimise environmental impact. Wynants, who has a background in industrial design, emphasises the importance of creating spaces for human interaction. “The Tools reflect my commitment to sustainability, functionality and cherishing shared moments.” An approach that prioritises growing social awareness about responsible consumption and production, with modularity as a key element.

“Design that adapts to different spaces and needs is flexible and sustainable in a world in constant flux. The focus on a long-term vision and avoiding overconsumption and waste underlines the importance of sustainable design for the present and future.” The Tools actively reinforce our togetherness. “They embody core values such as interaction, sustainability and inclusiveness, promote shared spaces, and meet US ADA standards, ensuring wheelchair users can also use them. The Gargantua picnic table, our first design from 1994, is a timeless example of this inclusiveness, with adjustable benches encouraging communication between children and adults. In this design, everyone can sit together, at the same eye level, around a table. Because ultimately, that’s what it’s all about for me.”

As part of his quest for togetherness, Wynants has also taken on board the key principles of biophilic design, creating healthy, quality and productive environments based on the principles of nature. “You boost human wellbeing with interiors that are connected with nature through architecture and design.” Because biophilic design is about more than the things that surround us. It is about a holistic experience of the environment we live in. “The Covid pandemic highlighted our need for connection as a society, debunking initial scepticism about the relevance of our Tools for Togetherness. As individuals, we all need company, whether human or from a pet. The success of robotic pets only confirms this.” Wynants believes in striking the right balance between functionality, aesthetics and circular design. “I value functionality, but not at the expense of aesthetics. The result always has to be visually pleasing. I will never design furniture that is not compact and easy to transport. At the start of a design process, you must consider certain things and make sacrifices. Ignoring them is much easier, obviously. My intention is to challenge the current trend for aesthetics. I believe in a more holistic approach that is consistent with timeless values. Our latest design, the Panigiri, means a 15-metre-long table, including legs and benches, can be stacked on one pallet without any visible compromise on aesthetics.”

From the outset, Extremis embraced sustainability with FSC-certified wood and eco-friendly practices, inspired by the responsibility to reduce negative impact and positively contribute to our society. Enduring designs such as Garguanta and Hopper attest to how effective the company’s approach has been to date. “The challenges of urbanisation and the need for shared spaces are forcing us to think outside traditional boundaries as designers. At Extremis, we encourage young designers to be flexible and innovative while always focusing on social purpose. Because 'Tools for Togetherness' is not just a slogan. It is a commitment to create harmonious designs that promote human connection and ecological responsibility."

About NOA:

NOA outdoor living is an experience park for outdoor design in Kruisem. In the theme gardens, you can find inspiration to decorate your garden. These gardens combine architecture, landscape, and interior, and welcome architects, landscape architects, designers, and contractors as well as private prospects. In this inspiration park, you will find luxurious garden furniture and designs by more than 30 high-end partners, who are happy to advise you as you bring your dream garden to life. Moreover, the park is the perfect professional networking location; the conference rooms, covered patio, spacious showroom, and plaza of NOA outdoor living are the ideal setting for your conference, product presentation, or product launch.

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