Diogene: a famous architect for a small house

18 Nov 2014

Diogene is a prototype created by the italian architect Renzo Piano and his staff, in collaboration with Matthias Schuler (from Transsolar, for the energetic efficiency) and Maurizio Milan (Favero & Milan, for static evaluations). It is interesting because it is a starting point for some thoughts on topics like self-sufficiency, sustainability and living versatility, all enclosed in narrow spaces.

This prototype is part of a research and development path that can be dated back to 60s, when Renzo Piano involved the students of the  Architectural Association in London in projecting a mini home in Bedford square. This “obsession” (as he defined it) continued during the years, and in 2009 Renzo Piano eventually published his first prototype on the “Abitare” magazine (monographic edition called “Being Renzo Piano”). In 2010 Piano found the ideal partner, Rolf Fehlbaum (Chairman of Vitra, interior furniture design producer) with whom he promoted the new Diogene project at the end of June of the same year.

After three years of research and development studies, on the occasion of the Art Basel 2013, Diogene becomes reality thanks to the valuable collaboration with Vitra, that stands out for its innovative approach and for the new definition of human living design (see the Vitra Design Museum projected by Frank Gehry, one of the world’s most important museums for furniture design and for architecture).

The project philosophy for narrow spaces is linked to the career of Renzo Piano, and can be found both in the architectural and in the nautical sector. Among his latest works one of the most important is the project for the rooms of the Ronchamp Clarisse convent, characterized by narrow spaces, but with a strong house-environment connection.

The final Diogene dimensions are 2.40 x 2.96 meters, with a 3.2 meters height. The internal structure is formed by insulated cedar wood panels, recalling the concept of shelter, characterized by a complicity with the surrounding environment, and by a greater internal comfort. The house has a pitched roof, to recall the idea of a traditional home. The aluminum outer layer is characterized by solar panels, while the structure is formed by steel staves, connected to a concrete basis, lifted on steel elements. Low emissions windows are installed, with a biologic bathroom and a  rainwater collecting system, that together with the solar and photovoltaic plants, ensure the house self-sufficiency.

It is a real housing unit, even if it has small sizes. It can be easily transported, also finished, with its 1.2 tons of weight. It can be fully dismounted and recycled. Since 2013, Diogene can be seen in the architecture park Vitra Campus, a green area in front of the VitraHaus, near Basel, Switzerland. The 20,000€ building costs make it a suitable solution for almost every situation.

Diogene can be used as studio, office, or nature parks refuge, small single or serial holiday home. Piano states:

Diogene is not an emergency shelter, but a place chosen carefully.

Some historic references can be made: the “Cabanon” built by Le Corbousier in the early 50s in Cap-Martin, on the French Riviera, and the “Nakagin Capsule Tower” built in 1972 by Kisho Kurokawa in Tokio. There are other inspiring sources, like Cedric Price with the “Fun Palace” and the hippie culture.

Diogene rooms are small but carefully projected to be functional and comfortable. There are two different areas: the living area formed by a living room, a kitchen and a sofa bed, and an area for the body care (bathroom and shower). The furniture is designed to fit these rooms and nothing is left to chance, like the small closet in the attic.

The small kitchen can contain hanging dishes, the bathroom has some niches in the walls, the shower is made of aluminum and there is a natural air circulation thanks to a small roof opening. The sofa can be opened, and there are six thin pillows, that can be put away, speeding the closing operations up. The sofa can also be used to sit during the day, and as a double bed in the night. The wooden table in the living area has three different sizes, and can be set according to the needs.

[foto by Patrik Tschudin]

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