Diogene by Renzo Piano
In June 2013, a further element will be introduced on the Vitra Campus. On a hill between the VitraHaus and the Dome, the Italian architect Renzo Piano and the Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW) has developed “Diogene”, which to date is Vitra’s smallest building ― but largest product.
In an interview with Renzo Piano, the architect explains that the ideal of minimalist housing is something which he has been considering since his student days. It is a kind of obsession, but a good one. A living space of two by two by two metres – just enough space for a bed, a chair and a small table – is a dream many architecture students share. About ten years ago, of his own volition and without a specific client, Renzo Piano began developing a minimalist house. Various prototypes were developed in Genoa – from plywood, concrete and, finally, from wood. The final version of the project which Piano dubbed “Diogene” was published in autumn 2009 in the monograph booklet “Being Renzo Piano” by the Italian magazine “Abitare”: a wooden saddle-roofed house with a 2.4 x 2.4-metre surface area, a ridge height of 2.3 metres and a weight of 1.2 tonnes. Piano presented his vision to the public in the magazine, but noted in a comment that he needed a client in order to continue developing “Diogene”. The Italian architect found his partner in Rolf Fehlbaum, chairman of the Vitra AG. Fehlbaum 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.
At the end of June 2010, there was a meeting between Renzo Piano and Rolf Fehlbaum, who at that time were still members of the Pritzker Prize jury. During this meeting, they agreed to continue the “Diogene” project together. After three years of development work, a new “Diogene” prototype is being presented at the Vitra Campus on the lawn opposite the VitraHaus on the occasion of the Art Basel 2013. It is not a finished project, but an experimental arrangement enabling Vitra to test the potential of the minimalist house.
The idea 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. Diogene might remind one of Henry D. Thoreau, who wrote the following in his book “Walden/Life in the Woods” in 1854: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach.” It is no coincidence that 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.”
For more information have a look at the article in the Vitra website.