Most buildings are clusters of boxes. Rooms are arranged horizontally or vertically in order to form apartments or individual houses. This type of composition not only forces everyday life into a tight corset but it creates spaces that remain unused during the day. That the spectrum of possibilities is much broader than this is explored by the MINI LIVING initiative. The Breathe housing concept was presented during the Salone del Mobile in Milan. “We wanted to question the conventional physical boundaries of a house. That’s why we came up with the idea of a building without any walls or floors and without a hermetic façade that separates you from the beauty of the surroundings”, informs Oke Hauser.

The German architect is the creative director of MINI LIVING, an initiative launched in 2016 by car manufacturer MINI to explore the use of small spaces in urban environments. After presenting a shared housing concept by Japanese architecture firm ON Design at the Salone in 2016, MINI LIVING collaborated with British architect Asif Khan at the London Design Festival last September on the implementation of three temporary, plant-filled pavilions that served as spatial supplements to the nearby apartments.

Breathe is not a prototype of a prefabricated house, but rather an insightful demonstration of how living could be thought of outside the box. The project is based on a variety of atmospheres and spatial experiences that let light and air pass through the building. “It is something more porous than the traditional house with its clearly defined rooms for specific functions, explains Ilias Papageorgiou, partner and project architect at SO – IL. Instead of a rigid façade, an expansive textile is stretched around a three-storey steel tower. The structure was prefabricated in Milan and erected in 10 days. It occupies a tiny space in a courtyard on via Tortona and needs no foundations.

Turning the entire façade into a giant window, the translucent textile gives the compact spaces an open, spacious character. Over the course of the day the experience changes dramatically, with alterations in the light, temperature, and shadows. Breathe reconnects you to the environment and allows you to become more aware of it – of the air you breathe, the sunlight on your skin, and the water you consume – while you’re in it. In a world that is constantly evolving, why should our homes remain the same?” poses Hauser.

This aspect of transparency plays a decisive role in the relationship between interior and exterior as well as in the vertical organisation of the house. Permeable grids and stretched netting replace traditionally enclosed floors and allow the eyes to wander from one level to the other. The grids and nets also allow air to circulate freely, transforming the building into a large habitable lung, which throws all the usual habits overboard. The netting serves as a sofa, armchair, seating area, hammock, and bed, all in one. This saves space and transforms the interior into a playground with different layers of transparency. Dedicated to the most shared and collective activities, the ground-floor level mainly contains the kitchen and dining area. There is a stair that leads up to two other floors, which have areas for resting and sleeping. On the very top level is a terrace with a diversity of plants, offering beautiful views over the rooftops in the Zona Tortona district in southwest Milan. “All of the furniture is movable and can be used in various ways. We are pursuing the idea of a flexible space that reveals many different personalities”, says Papageorgiou.

Instead of creating isolated zones, new forms of community and cohabitation are being tested. “The traditional house is built around the lifestyle of the nuclear family, and still exists today. But now there are many more relationships between families and friends that are not addressed in a classic house with solid walls”, Papageorgiou adds. Although the shape of the building responds to the specific site in Milan’s Via Tortona, the concept is very adaptable.

“You can easily dismantle the structure and place it elsewhere. And not only can the floor plan be altered but also the fabric, to suit the weather conditions and/or performance requirements – just like wearing another kind of jacket”, says Papageorgiou about the openness of the design. The scope of the project, however, extends even further: “We need new architectural concepts that help to build a more flexible, more personal, and ultimately more enjoyable future, with a small individual footprint”, emphasises Hauser. “These are topics that will certainly remain relevant for us in the future.”

Read more about the MINI LIVING Breathe project in the upcoming DAMNº62!

all images by MINI unless otherwise mentioned

image by Laurian Ghinitoiu
image by Laurian Ghinitoiu
image by Laurian Ghinitoiu