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MINI LIVING – 'Forests' by Asif Khan at the London Design Festival 2016.
London based architect teams up with MINI LIVING to bring life back to the city's neglected spaces with a unique architectural intervention.
MINI believes it's time to think differently about the city, to re-activate its potential. But what would that look like? Well, picture this: you're walking down a street in the city you live in, on your way to work. You're moving through an urban space you've never paid much attention to, when suddenly you see something you've never seen before—a little geometric pavilion, bursting with light and life, sitting right there in a place where there had previously been... well, not much. You poke your head inside and find an urban oasis, gentle light filtering through the leaves and shoots of potted plants, illuminating a quiet, comfortable space. There's electricity, wi-fi, people sitting quietly, meeting, talking or working away on creative projects. What is it? Not a café or bar or a shop, not 'home' or 'work', but something in-between, what MINI LIVING calls a new 'third place'.
For 2016's London Design Festival, MINI collaborated with architect Asif Khan to create such a place on the streets of Shoreditch. 'Forests' consisted of three transparent pavilions, filled with lush greenery and furnished in a simple, minimal style. Each one was made a little different, with different purposes in mind. The 'Connect' space featured a table for meetings, talks, dinners or coworking jams. The 'Relax' space had a bench for quiet contemplation, or just somewhere to put your bags down and rest your legs. The 'Create' space, meanwhile, offered a flexible arrangement of tables, chairs and other bits and pieces, so you could use it for whatever you like. Not strictly private or public, outside or inside, but a hybrid of all these things, 'Forests' was a place for interaction, collaboration and shared experience in the middle of the city. Khan was inspired by the Japanese concept of shinrin-yoku, or 'forest bathing', a complete sensorial immersion in the sights, smells and sounds of nature, but also by a lifetime spent living in London, and a deep desire to bring its diverse communities together by unlocking the potential of public spaces.
'Forests' turned up in the kind of places we walk through every day, but barely notice—those 'in-between' zones that, if they appear on a map at all, tend to be coloured in a uniform grey, as if to say, 'nothing to see here'. This, for Khan and MINI LIVING, was exactly the point—to activate neglected or overlooked public spaces, to invite city-dwellers to really live in the city, instead of just hurrying through it. It's a little ironic, after all, that we yearn for space while being surrounded by it. We live in small apartments crammed with belongings, and share crowded offices. We seek relief at coworking spaces or cafés, but find that these alternatives are expensive and somehow never quite right. And we feel the corporate sphere taking over our streets, privatizing public space, and feel ourselves increasingly squeezed out. Meanwhile, we constantly move through parts of the city we think of as empty or blank. Maybe they're just waiting to be brought to life? 'Forests' invites us to do just that—re-imagine our surroundings and activate the hidden possibilities of the cities we share.