Renzo Piano’s minimalist Diogene is a validation of the old saying, “big things come in small packages.” The Genoa-born architect designed the 6 ½ foot-by-6 ½ foot, self-sufficient cabin for furniture maker Vitra. The mobile retreat is not the typical type of work that passes through the Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RBPW). The office is more accustomed to projects of somewhat larger-scale, such as The Shard in London, which qualified as Europe’s tallest high-rise at the time of its completion in 2012.
Piano designed the cabin—which just contains a pull out sofa, chair, and a small folding table—ten years ago on his own accord. He built several prototypes in Genoa, but it wasn’t until Vitra chairman Rolf Fehlbaum caught wind of the project in 2010 that Piano was able to really fine-tune the little lodging.
Julien Lanoo for Vitra
Diogene, which is named after the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes, who purportedly lived in a barrel and renounced all worldly possessions, is equipped with the barest provisions necessary for a single-inhabitant’s survival. To the naked eye, the cabin, with its clean design and warm wood interior, appears sleek and minimal. In reality, it is filled with complex technical systems that ensure its self-sufficiency.
The cabin has a timber frame, wood interior, and an aluminum cladding system that is suitable for a wide variety of climate conditions. Rainwater is collected in a tank, filtered, and used in the shower and kitchen. It is equipped with a biological toilet. Photovoltaic panels provide electricity, and hot water is supplied by a solar water heater.
The mobile home is not meant to serve as an emergency refuge, but as a temporary hideaway, studiolo, or weekend home. It intentionally does not include a telephone line or WiFi connection, encouraging occupants to communicate with the outside world without being dependent on technology.
In June, the single-unit cabin was installed on the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein, Germany. It sits now on the lawn opposite the VitraHaus, where it is available for public viewing.