In 1972, Ettore Sottsass came up with a grand architectural scheme that took in the whole planet and was called “The Planet as Festival”. It was a highly utopian, highly visionary, highly radical project, as were many other projects from that time, known as the age of radical architecture. In the description of the project he highlighted the basis for which it was necessary to overturn conventional rules and go on to imagine a better (not only) architectural world….. there was nothing left for me to design, solitary, not group artist that I am – child of an era worried about the future – a degenerate child for I am not engrossed in the destinies which generated me, which political parties, armies and suchlike threateningly point out to me. I thought there was no architecture left for me to draw, I mean there is no architecture left to propose, either as Andrea Branzi aptly says “as a model for society” or to put in the hands of society “as a psycho-motor activity” ……… Therefore I designed these projects as if they had been proposed by someone else – someone far removed from the trajectory of thought concerned with the city, since it considered that thought concerned with the city has up to now, only projected, wherever it comes from and wherever it goes to, the insane, sick, dangerous and aggressive idea that men must live only to work and must work to produce and then consume. With my projects I imagined that something has been changed in the moral of the man “worker-producer” and that it is thought that men can live (if they want to) for the sake of living and work (if perchance they want to) to come to know, by means of their bodies, their psyche and their sex, that they are living………I know all this very well – not because I have invented it myself but because I have heard it all over the place, from young people, from poets, from many people who really work, from the oppressed, the alienated, the tired, Indian chiefs, Gurus, children, prisoners….that freedom can only come from the possible knowledge that each of us is living and that very slowly each of us is dying too. (taken from Casabella n° 365 May 1972).
Clearly the project had no consequence other than publication in Casabella that, however, influenced many generations of architects and designers. In the planet as festival, various elements of architecture appear, designed like kind and friendly objects sitting here and there on the planet, on the top of volcanoes, on craggy cliffs amid the rocky walls of the Grand Canyon, floating on the ocean or transported on placid river streams. The Cube project seems to have its roots right in that metaphorical world of Ettore Sottsass and is reminiscent of those amusing yet serious utopias of fifty years ago.
The idea is to build a small piece of architecture, a cabin, perhaps a nest, on high, at the top of a cliff, on a monument, on a public building, it doesn’t matter where but in a beautiful place and with a beautiful and original view. The idea is then to create a restaurant and welcome clients in an enchanting, unique place with sophisticated dishes cooked in Electrolux kitchens. The idea is to keep it open for six months and then change location, change city, nation, continent and reinstate this restaurant-type object on some other roof for new surprises, new menus, new clients. It is one of those projects that open things up: in fact too often solutions resolve but do not leave space for the imagination, for innovation, for evolution. This ‘Cube’ that is not actually a cube, has a great proactive force and immediately presents itself for what it is: defying the paralysis of thinking and the imagination. Not only that, it also defies the immobility produced by the continual growth of bureaucracy in requiring the consent from the government, council, safety officers, heritage organisations, fire brigades etc. etc. If indeed standards are necessary and useful for ensuring better architecture, it is also true that standards have spread into all design choices to the extent that schemes are increasingly often an interpretation of the current regulations rather than a conscious creative act that gives continuity in the history of architecture.
Michele De Lucchi September 2011
Greetings from Marco Biagi
The process is clear and well-known. It is called “defamiliarisation” and was discussed as much as a century ago by Russian literary critic Viktor Šklovskij. It is one of the fundamental approaches used in contemporary art and communication in general and consists in breaking down the veil of indifference that habit tends to project onto things by moving them from the context where they usually belong. Surprise, bewilderment, wonder and curiosity is thus provoked in the inhabitants of a city on discovering one morning that one of the monuments that makes up their familiar landscape has suddenly changed shape due to the unexpected intrusion of an extraneous organism. An effect of amazement, that one might call of a second degree, is generated on discovering that the organism itself, appears to be a piece of architecture, usually immovable, transferred to different and extraordinary settings, from urban to natural. Who does not recall the amusing farce of the “travelling garden gnome” in the successful film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (2001)? The creative directors from Belgian event-organisers Absolute Blue surely must have had it in mind in early 2010 when they proposed to their client Electrolux that the profitable partnership they had been entertaining for some time with various protagonists from the world of European haute cuisine be consolidated via a promotional initiative in the form of an itinerant restaurant that would tour exceptional continental locations. The Cube, as it was decided this unique structure would be known as, is not a cube but an ephemeral, inhabitable installation with a snowy-white perforated skin made up of jagged, broken forms that has been designed to be moved around and superimposed like a parasite onto existing buildings in highly visible locations. It is also conceived as a kind of gastronomic travelling theatre, a wagon of Thespis rather than an exclusive restaurant, where leading chefs are invited take turns in presenting themselves in performances of show-cooking before a selected participating audience. The pavilion devised for this purpose by Park Associati, offers integrated responses to the multiple levels of complexity of a sophisticated brief which sees the inevitable interlacing of the architectural scale with an interior designed right down to the last technological and decorative detail. The configuration of the building intentionally evokes the two-dimensional complexity of pop-up architecture or a piece of origami made by folding a flat surface. The very first inspiration was in fact a diamond, precious and shining, universally beautiful and recognisable. In reality, the subsequent aim was a distinctive but not prevaricating form that was able to compete but not collide with a disparate range of possible settings. The splayed form of the irregular polyhedron was a natural consequence of both the intrinsic panoramic vocation of the device and the need to convey attention onto the proscenium of the kitchen placed at the apex of the plan, small but rigorously ergonomic and fitted out with top-of-the-range hi-tech kitchen equipment. The notion of the nomadic object, delocalised and stateless, indifferent therefore to climatic conditions and even to solar exposition, conditioned substantial aspects of the construction such as for example the extraordinary levels of insulation provided by the envelope by both the solid and transparent components and the optimal degree of screening required by the facades in the absence of specific systems of blinds.
Considerable attention was also dedicated to the question of dimensioning the volume and its internal circulation. Inside an area of roughly 140 sqm, spaces include an open-air panoramic terrace of 50 sqm, an open-planned space organised as a dining area and visible kitchen and three small, enclosed service room, set along the side. These contain a storeroom, a bathroom and a technical area for all the mechanical, plumbing and electrical services that guarantee the environmental comfort of this artificial habitat and that are designed to be able to function independently from the mains network if required. In terms of the structure of the building, The Cube is obviously a dry-mounted system and consists of a mixed frame in timber and metal completely lined with aluminium panels that have been laser-cut with a honeycomb pattern of holes of variable size and density in a pattern created by graphic designers Studio FM of Milan, also responsible for the logo that identifies the place and the operation. Outside, the access route obliges the user to move around part of the perimeter of the building, discovering it gradually according to a precise sequence of approach. Inside, a series of steel portals with a section that flares towards the top define the load-bearing frame of the main space, clad in extra-clear, low-emission glazing. Flush grills below the glazing emit a curtain of conditioned air that prevents condensation in winter and regulates the indoor parameters of environmental wellbeing. The floor area, both inside and outside is made from special planks of reconstituted wood, a new material also used to replace the “briccole” of Venice, and with under-floor heating incorporated below. The single dining table that can seat up to eighteen diners, is made from Corian®, 6.3 m long and reinforced with a steel core. Before and after meals it is raised up to the ceiling like an unsuspected plafond and is lowered – already laid – by metal cables when the ritual of the collective banquet begins, placed on retractable supports in the form of two sturdy hydraulic pistons on the floor. A sound system and lighting, both controlled by a domotic system, add the final sceno-technic touches to the installation. The pavilion has an overall weight of roughly thirty tonnes and each time it is installed in the desired setting a preliminary survey of the site is necessary to prepare special foundations to transmit the loads according to the specific site conditions.
The Cube had its baptism by fire on 1 April 2011 in Brussels, over the 19th Century triumphal arch in the Parc du Cinquantenaire. It remained dramatically perched there for over ninety days. Future plans for the travelling restaurant are for it to continue its extravagant tour of the cities of Europe, along with a twin structure, stopping off in Sweden, Russia, Switzerland and Italy, each time for a maximum of six months. Just enough time to produce a memorable set of collectible postcards.