For eight years, fashion brand COS has used the occasion of Salone del Mobile to flex a more conceptual creative muscle, curating memorable experiences such as Studio Swine's 2017 smoke bubble-filled installation and an all-white ethereal, escape dreamt up by Snarkitecture in 2015.
COS Creative Director Karin Gustafsson (left) and architect Arthur Mamou-Mani (right)
This year, they returned to Milan in collaboration with London-based architect Arthur Mamou-Mani to create Conifera, a structure that doesn't just speak to creativity, but also to conservation and innovation. Housed in Palazzo Isimbardi—a building that dates back to the 16th century— the installation is built to figuratively bring you from the old world into the new. The latticed, 3D-printed architectural structure that wraps around the front and back of the palazzo is not only almost fully recyclable, it also currently stands as the largest 3D Printed PLA structure in the world.
"I find it exciting that it's still accessible to break records [in 3D printing]," noted Mamou-Mani, "it's really exciting to know that technology is going at such a speed that enables really interesting environmental designs". Mamou-Mani's motivation, however, was not just about record-breaking, but also discovering how 3D printing might just be able to improve on the physics of architecture. The Conifera installation is constructed out of about 2 million structural elements, and built using a custom algorithm that promises the most minimal amount of material that could take the maximum amount of tension. "The project is interesting in that it's minimizing the amount of materials to a point that it's almost a [structural and weight equivalent to] foam."
"I find this idea exciting, that architecture can not necessarily be finite, but it can kind of undo itself."
Only having a two month window to print the installation presented the team with another challenge to overcome: creating something structurally sound that can also be printed absurdly fast. When asked how they tackled such a feat, Mamou-Mani added that there are many factors to consider to get it right: "It's quite holistic. It's an understanding of the material behavior, the temperatures, the speed, the elasticity...all these parameters we bring in the computer and then use a tool that allows us to integrate all these things together." The parametric design, partly designed by the algorithm, is what allowed for minimal material with maximum structural quality. A not so easy feat, "but I love mission impossible," said Mamou-Mani.
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The pieces were made out of a combination of PLA and wood, making it virtually wasteless (given the right composting conditions)—and this, he hopes, has implications for the future of architecture. "Concrete is responsible for about 8% of [humanity's] carbon footprint. It's the second most used substance after water. And steel has a large footprint as well. So together, construction is the number one factor for our carbon footprint," Mamou-Mani explained. "This needs to change, and I think architects need to know that."
So how does Mamou-Mani imagine the future of architecture? "My dream is to have a giant version of this assemble and disassemble a building according to economic conditions. If it's going well, it grows. If it doesn't go well, it shrinks. I find this idea exciting, that architecture can not necessarily be finite, but it can kind of undo itself. I think that's probably the biggest revolution that could happen to architecture, that it's not necessarily permanent and we can let go of this idea." Perhaps a tall order today, Conifera still proves a solid point of what could be.