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Interaction between inside and outside

Venetian designer Luca Nichetto is creating “Das Haus – Interiors on Stage” for the imm cologne 2013. In this essay, he explains the underlying ideas behind his design, his opinions on sustainability and his understanding of his role as a designer.

Our cities are artificial worlds – habitats without a natural biosphere in which the apparent chaos of flora and fauna is replaced with the equally unfathomable chaos of the traffic. The more modern our homes are, the more the nature in them seems like an alien element. That was my starting point.

But does it have to be that way? What happens when a designer takes a closer look at this relationship between man and nature, between the way we live and the environment? This in turn raises other questions: why on earth would a designer want to choose such an ambitious and ideologically charged subject as “eco-compatible living” for a project like the imm cologne’s “Haus”? Does he perhaps just want to jump on the sustainability bandwagon? Is he trying to make a ground-breaking contribution to ecological architecture? Or does he just want to present yet another sustainably produced new chair after all? In the end, a sense of foreboding looms: is he perhaps a starry-eyed idealist who’s trying to make the world a better place?

Don’t worry. “Das Haus” for the imm cologne 2013 hasn’t turned out to be a model for improving the world. Instead it is a personal statement, a temporary realisation of a dream about how we might live in the future. I don’t want to design a house that changes people’s lives; that’s quite simply beyond my capabilities. At the end of the day, a designer’s passion is always his profession too, and the best thing he can do is to make each and every new chair as good as he possibly can. That’s the most honest way of dealing with people’s expectations of him. In my opinion, a creative’s responsibility lies in ensuring his work is contemporary and adopting a strong position.

Today, being contemporary means changing the way you think – and changing the way you think as a designer as well. Nature and our environment have to be treated with more respect. That’s why my “Haus” directs its attention to the natural system that surrounds us and the conventional barriers that exist between the places we live in and the open space that is nature. When I was working on my design, I had the modernist architects of California in mind, as well as the works of the Japanese masters and the buildings of Carlo Scarpa. In all these works, I see the constant presence of nature flanked by architecture. In contrast, our living culture normally identifies nature with “outside” and the dwelling with “inside”. When parts of the outside world make their way into the interior, then only ever as purely decorative elements.

Why not redefine this relationship for our homes? What if, as in the film “Powers of 10” by Ray and Charles Eames (made in 1968, released in 1977), we consider the relationship between the micro and macro systems and use it as a starting point for seeing the earth as a role model for the organisation of our own little world? What if we interpret the home as a habitat organised around a green heart? Just as the equatorial forests supply the overall system of the earth, this heart would supply the home with energy in the form of light, oxygen and emotions. Then dark corridors, the perpetual one-sided orientation of the entire house towards the south-facing balcony and, to some extent, even the very walls might become superfluous. That opens up totally new possibilities for organising the space, for the flexible allocation of functions and, last but not least, for the way we live together.

That is the idea behind “Das Haus” 2013 – an experiment on what living with nature might look like. It dispenses almost entirely with closed walls so as to emphasise the concept of merging the “inside” with the “outside”. The living area forms the heart of “Das Haus”, its centre – and not just metaphorically speaking. All the other rooms are connected with this heart. The entire central living area is surrounded by nature, the presence of which delimits the space without the dividing line becoming a wall.

We can’t all live in a natural idyll, in wooden buildings and eco-developments on the outskirts of the city. In order to change our living culture, we have to find small-scale solutions that are transferable – to different countries, to a different climate and to structures with different degrees of urbanisation. Even in a small apartment, integrating nature and plants can enrich the way we live. And why shouldn’t it be possible to live with nature even in an urban habitat? The modernist architects or the organic architecture movement exemplified by Carlos Scarpa worked in this direction, just as Jean-Marie Massaud, Michael Sorkin or firms like MVRDV Architects are doing today.

A project like “Das Haus” is not real architecture, it is an installation at a trade fair that is seen by thousands of people. “Das Haus” counters this artificial trade fair city with an architectural tableau that is filled with life – with plant life. The idea of an energy-saving, eco-compatible house implemented in the form of a modern yet cosy interior design is definitely more attractive than a demonstration of sustainable technologies. Emotions have always been more convincing than arguments.

This can be applied both on a large scale and on a small one. You can help people change the world by using good products to give them a good feeling and a reason to smile. But it isn’t the products that change the world. In its current form, our civilisation, which defines itself via consumption, is gradually nearing its end. The solution can only be to produce fewer and better things and not lose sight of the bigger picture – the materials, production, lifespan, tradition, living culture, architecture and natural surroundings. That is a challenge for any designer who concerns himself with this topic. But ultimately, that is precisely what constitutes ambitious design: the fact that it asks itself questions like these.

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