Tempietto nel Bosco

Asif Khan speaks to our senses in many ways – especially with light

London-based Asif Khan is known as a holistic architect, speaking to our senses in a number of ways, especially in his ingenious use of light. Born in London into a Pakistani-Tanzanian family in 1979, Khan astonished the established world of architecture by suddenly claiming the spotlight with his innovative projects, ranging from cultural institutions and private houses to temporary pavilions, installations, and exhibitions.

Asif Khan’s installation in the courtyard of Palazzo Litta was commissioned by DAMN° and Mosca Partners, who together organised their fourth Fuorisalone event in the Baroque 18th century palace. © Asif Khan

Each of his works is exciting and sensuous. And his most recent temporary pavilion, Tempietto nel Bosco, which was revealed during last month’s Salone del Mobile, is certainly no exception. Making its presence felt, it was shortlisted as one of the best installations of the over 1300 exhibits that take place across Milan during the Salone.

London-based Asif Khan is known as a holistic architect, speaking to our senses in a number of ways, especially in his ingenious use of light. © Asif Khan

Asif Khan’s installation in the courtyard of Palazzo Litta was commissioned by DAMN° and Mosca Partners, who together organised their fourth Fuorisalone event in the Baroque 18th century palace. Khan’s temporary pavilion drew almost 50,000 people from the streets of Milan right into the heart of the palace. "These hard streets of Milan…Every visitor of the Salone, including myself, talks about how much their feet ache at the end of the day," Khan says.

Tempietto nel Bosco – which means 'small temple in the woods' – consisted of over 150 red timber columns, with a Carrara marble clearing in the middle. © Asif Khan

Aching limbs aside, his idea was to create a kind of natural environment that would be an oasis for relaxation. Tempietto nel Bosco – which means 'small temple in the woods' – consisted of over 150 red timber columns, with a Carrara marble clearing in the middle. At night it was beautifully illuminated from ground level up; the installation radiating a glow reminiscent of a campfire, calling to our most primal human needs to feel connected and secure. It was a setting people were instinctively attracted to. Khan is known for his sensitive approach and he’s a master in transcribing our emotional needs into architecture, recreating aspects of natural phenomena in spatial and material terms.

Tempietto nel Bosco was a recreation of a clearing in a forest. © Asif Khan

Tempietto nel Bosco was a recreation of a clearing in a forest: those found open places 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 is also known for his avid interest in astronomy and science in general. 'Today, 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 Khan’s installation: the colour symbolising this new world.

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. © Hufton+Crow

When Khan first officially appeared in Milan nearly a decade ago, it was as an exhibitor at SaloneSatellite. He followed that with the Tip silverware for Sawaya & Moroni in 2010, and the Swivel light for Danese in 2011. The pavilion in the courtyard of Palazzo Litta was another addition to his studio’s 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 360° sound and animation installation); and the Vantablack pavilion for the 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."

MegaFon, Sochi Winter Olympics 2014, Sochi, Russia. © Hufton+Crow
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 360° sound and animation installation. © Luke Hayes