SO-IL builds “breathing” house for MINI in Milan, exploring the future of urban living

5 April 2017
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4 minute read

New York architecture studio SO-IL has designed Breathe, an installation for British brand MINI at Milan’s Salone del Mobile exploring the future of urban living. Within a compact footprint of five metres wide by ten metres tall, the installation is contained within a transparent, flexible outer skin that filters the air while allowing natural light to enter the interior. 

Breathe is the third installation created as part of MINI LIVING – a creative, idea-sharing initiative launched by MINI in 2016 and headlined by architectural solutions for future urban living spaces.

“Breathe aims to increase the connection between its users and their surroundings,” says Ilias Papageorgiou, principal architect at SO-IL, “and cultivate an ethos of care and responsibility, as well as a conscious mind set.” The installation simulates a variety of atmospheres through the careful manipulation of light, air and water, offering “a highly sensorial environment” for those inside, that “amplifies the senses,” says Ilias. “Moving shadows and subtle variations in light, depth and smells all contribute to create an immersive living space.”

This is part of a concept MINI and the architects refer to as “active experiencing” – but what exactly is that? “I think of it as an experience that is not static,” says Ilias. “It requires some sort of engagement or interpretation… an experience that makes you wonder, pause and think. In architecture it translates into organisations and forms that offer a degree of openness, that are anticipatory and open to possibilities, that perhaps don’t prescribe every detail but allow for some things to happen either through the user’s choices or by chance.”

Concerned with the increasing population, and decreasing personal space, in urban environments worldwide, the architect hopes the idea will encourage a more engaged population and talk about the idea of interactive architecture that “reacts creatively”.

“We thought about the sensual relationship between city inhabitants and asked ourselves how can buildings become more than just a passive mass,” says Oke Hauser, creative lead on MINI LIVING. “How can they become active contributors to better and healthier urban surroundings?” Based on the company’s principle of a “creative use of space” the installation is intended as a vertical micro-neighbourhood that activates an urban void in the heart of Milan. 

It’s essentially a prototype for how we might live in the near future, though in contrast to the Jetsons-esque retro-futuristic visions of humankind served by robots in a home interlaced with technology, it instead re-focuses on nature. Its breathable, translucent skin brings in air and light from outdoors; its lush roof garden aims to improve air quality, and incorporates a rainwater collection system, adding to the concept’s sustainability quota; and its structure is made using environmentally-friendly and recyclable materials. The building itself makes a positive contribution to its environment, and encourages its three (hypothetical) residents to do the same.

“A more conscious way of living can be sensed in all aspects of urbanity,” continues Oke, saying that society is overall more selfless and conscious of its context nowadays. “People just care more about their sensual relationship with themselves, with each other and also with their urban surroundings and products – whether it’s the rise of healthy food or finding their inner urban zen. We think that architecture should also contribute to a healthier and more joyful urban experience.”

The skin is a PVC fabric with a special “purifying” coating, Ilias explains. When the sun hits the surface, it decomposes dirt and several polluting agents. It cleans itself while also purifying the air around it. It exists, Ilias says “it just hasn’t been used widely on buildings yet. There are also people studying its application to clothing. The more surface you have, the greater the volume of purified air you get.” The wrap had the added benefit of being “like a cloth that dresses the structure,” making it interchangeable in different locations and conditions, and adaptable for possible iterations of the structure, which can be disassembled and installed in different locations.

“The idea of dwelling has been changing,” says Ilias. We live much more precarious lives than previous generations. Technology has transformed the live and work boundaries, and we are constantly moving between places. So we don’t need more space — we need more flexible space. The traditional house based on the nuclear family is organised with fixed rooms dedicated to specific functions. We thought of this house as a loose stack of porous realms with different atmospheres, some more open, some more public. We wanted to create an experience with depth.”

The concept is on display at Salone del Mobile in Milan until 9 April, available for visitors to interact with and explore, and aiming to provoke wider discussions of the home and how it needs to change.

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