Diogene: Renzo Piano Goes Eco

By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

Possibly the most acclaimed living architect in the world, Renzo Piano has always had an environmentally friendly heart.

Selected by as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2006 and winner of many prestigious awards including the 1998 Pritzker Prize, which was handed to him by Bill Clinton personally–Piano is known for large iconic constructions such as the Shard, of Glass recently erected in the heart of London.


Despite his penchant for large constructions, ten years ago he commenced work on a tiny, minimalist house capable of functioning entirely through green energy. His eco-dream house, called the Diogene,  was supported by Vitra, a Swiss furniture company, who helped present the project at Art Basel 2013.

The Diogene cabin is small, but has all the essential needs of a space to call home: a sofa-bed, a folding table, a kitchenette, a shower and a lavatory, all in a surface area of 2.5 x 3 metres and a ridge height of 2.3 metres. Piano focused on making the house sustainable by using an aluminium exterior for natural insulation, a biological toilet, a rainwater tank, and solar cells. One other advantage of the Diogene is that it’s portable: completely energy self-sufficient, it relies on its own photovoltaic power system.


Piano was clearly inspired by Le Corbusier’s Cabanon home, the ready-made structure that Le Corbusier built at the beginning of the 50s at Cap-Martin in Cà´te d’Azure. The ready-made structures of Charlotte Perriand and the Nakagin Capsule Tower built in 1972 by Kisho Kurokawa in Tokyo also impacted his concept.

The model house is currently open to the public and visitors are encouraged to explore and test its functionality and provide feedback, as the Swiss furniture manufacturer has not yet decided if it will mass produce and market Diogene. But Piano is confident that his creation is bound to be a success: “Diogene provides you with what you really need, and no more,” he stated.


Piano concludes: “This little house is the outcome of a long journey, determined by desires and dreams, but also by technology and science. Diogene can be used in a variety of ways, as home for the weekend, as a tiny office space; it may be placed into the wild but also within a working open space. In the future, it may also be built as a series of units to create an informal resort. Diogene is so tiny that it doesn’t fulfil all human needs: it can be used as individual shelter, but communication for instance will have to occur outside. Diogene will trigger people to think about the relationship between the individual and the community.”


Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
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