Asif Khan

THE LITTA VARIATIONS / 4th Movement – Palazzo Litta, Corso Magenta 24, Milano

Main partners: Eternoivica, Van Den Weghe
Technical partners: Artemide, Living Divani

From a clearing in the woods to the red planet
Asif Khan designs a mesmerising Palazzo Litta courtyard pavilion

With this year’s pavilion in the courtyard of Palazzo Litta, London- based architect Asif Khan creates a welcoming space in a Baroque monument that until recent years has rarely been open to the public. Known for his innovative and holistic approach to architecture, Khan merges past, present and future in his pavilion, inviting us to dive in, mind and body. ‘In all my work, I try to create experiences to better understand where we are now as humans, placing ourselves in the big picture of the universe, and of history’.

Loose gravel crunches underfoot. As you walk through vertical columns and smell the wood, rest on hand-woven hammocks, or on slabs of marble that rise out of the ground as seats. You then see the impressive vertical structure that is a one-time dialogue with the 18th century Palazzo. It’s an ochre-tinged immersion, an installation to trigger the pulses that run around our senses and brain.

That is exactly what Asif Khan and his team want us to experience: existential sensations that will stay in our memory. It is the sensation of feeling connected not only with the noble setting, but also with collapsing timelines, and our fellow human beings. ‘Our main challenge was to make the dialogue with the Palazzo happen. We wanted to create something with verticality, and at the same time, we were working in one of the most protected historic buildings of Milan… We couldn’t use the building to support our pavilion, so from an engineering perspective this was already quite something to cope with. How to be respectful but still establish a conversation with the place?

Studio Asif Khan’s temporary pavilion in the courtyard of Palazzo Litta is another addition to its already impressive repertoire of temporary installations: the interactive Beatbox for Coca-Cola at the London Olympics in 2012 (a pavilion designed with Pernilla Ohrstedt that could be played like a musical instrument); the UK Pavilion at Astana EXPO 2017 in Kazakhstan in collaboration with musician Brian Eno (a pavilion that explored the origins of energy with a 360º sound and animation installation); and the Vantablack pavilion for PyeongChang Winter Olympics 2018 (described as ‘the darkest building on earth’). In the Palazzo Litta pavilion, Khan’s interests unite: ‘Awareness of the human experience in architecture drives our way of thinking. People’s relationship with materials, nature, and especially technology – we research that and work with it’.

The Litta project is a hybrid that explores nature and order. It consists of a kind of organised ensemble of interconnected wooden columns, with hammocks spanning them – hustle & bustle busters to be enjoyed during the Salone. The installation itself is a recreation of a clearing in a forest: those found open places in the woods where our ancestors made their settlements, in what would later become villages and cities. A courtyard archetype like Palazzo Litta’s is its counterpart, an ordered environment made by humans. ‘The world that is found meeting with the world that is made. And in our time, we’re about to make clearings in space, too,’ adds Khan – who calls himself ‘a closet astronaut’.

‘We’re about to establish our presence in this new world we’re increasingly familiar with: the red planet, Mars. We’re about to live on Mars; this is happening right now. I wanted to introduce this idea in Palazzo Litta.’ Hence the overall redness of the installation: the colour symbolising the new world, according to Khan. At the time of speaking Khan’s studio was still busy trying to find all materials in red ochre. ‘Three layers are coming together in our Litta project: the past of the earth, our own human past, and a sense of the future.’ Thus Studio Asif Khan brings three spaces together for us to experience during the Salone: found, ordered, and future worlds.

Photo credits Ruy Teixeira