Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Renzo Piano: Diogene - Vitra’s smallest building but largest product


Diogene is the new design element developed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano and added to the Vitra Campus from June 2013.

Diogene, named after the antique philosopher Diogenes (who is said to have lived in a barrel because he considered worldly luxuries to be superfluous), is a minimalist living unit which functions completely autonomously as a self-contained system and is thus independent of its environment. With a surface area of 2.5 x 3 metres when fully assembled and furnished, it can be loaded onto a lorry and transported anywhere. Whereas Diogene’s exterior corresponds to the image of a simple house, it is in truth a highly complex technical structure, equipped with various installations and technical systems that are necessary to guarantee its self-sufficiency and independence from the local infrastructure: Photovoltaic cells and solar modules, a rainwater tank, a biological toilet, natural ventilation, triple glazing. To optimise the house’s energy, Renzo Piano is working with Matthias Schuler from the renowned company Transsolar, while Maurizio Milan is responsible for static equilibrium.

Diogene is equipped with everything you need for living. The front part serves as a living room: On one side, there is a pull-out sofa; on the other, a folding table under the window. Behind a partition, there are a shower and toilet as well as a kitchen, which has also been reduced to the necessary. The house and furnishings form a single unit. It is constructed from wood with a warm character, which also defines the interior. For the purpose of weather protection, the exterior is coated with aluminium paneling. The overall shape and saddle roof resemble the archetype of a house, but its rounded-off corners and the all-over façade materials also give the impression of a contemporary product. It is no simple hut, but instead a technically perfect and aesthetically attractive refuge. The great challenge lies in planning the complex product so that it is suitable for industrial series production. “This little house is the final result of a long, long journey partially driven by desires and dreams, but also by technicality and a scientific approach,” explains Renzo Piano.




About ten years ago, without a specific client, Renzo Piano began developing a minimalist house. Various prototypes were developed 'till the final version of the project - named “Diogene” - was published in autumn 2009 by the Italian magazine Abitare. Piano needed a client in order to continue developing Diogene. The Italian architect found his partner in Rolf Fehlbaum, chairman of the Vitra AG., who had read the issue of “Abitare” and immediately felt attracted to Renzo Piano’s ideas, as Vitra does not regard itself as a manufacturer of individual design objects, but defines furniture as an essential part of the human environment. If we look back at the history of furniture design, it was always about requalifying people’s living space; the living landscapes of the 1960s and 1970s are just one case in point.
After three years of development work, a new Diogene prototype is being presented at the Vitra Campus. It is not a finished project, but an experimental arrangement enabling Vitra to test the potential of the minimalist house.

Diogene is not an emergency accommodation, but a voluntary place of retreat. It is supposed to function in various climate conditions, independent of the existing infrastructure, i.e. as a self-sufficient system. The required water is collected by the house itself, cleaned and reused. The house supplies its own power and the necessary platform is minimised. We live in an age in which the demand for sustainability forces us to minimise our ecological footprint. This postulate is paired with the desire to concentrate and reduce the direct living environment to the truly essential things. Piano also regards his project as “quite romantic” and emphasises the aspect of “spiritual silence” which it conveys: “Diogene provides you with what you really need and no more.

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