Caffeinated Architecture

An architect, a recycled container, and a coffee company make a fine blend.

The artist and architect Adam Kalkin’s latest metamorphic shipping container, for the Italian coffee company illy, is a good example of innovation on three shots of espresso. The illy Push Button House, on display until December 29 on the second floor of New York’s Time Warner Center, is a rusty recycled 20-by-8-by-8.5-foot shipping container whose corrugated exterior unfolds at the push of a button to reveal five rooms—a living room, a dining room, a bedroom, a library, and a kitchen—over 440 square feet, with contemporary furnishings affixed to the floor. New York is the first stop on a U.S. tour for the movable café.

Kalkin, who uses similar technology in apartment buildings, has been experimenting with protean containers for years. His first Push Button House was installed by Deitch Projects in 2005 at Art Basel Miami Beach. (Tech geeks might enjoy the impressive 55-page instruction manual about the model’s hydraulic system. It’s available for download on Kalkin’s Web site.) Illy spotted it and invited him to turn it into a custom café, and the first illy Push Button House debuted last June at the Venice Biennale.

For the New York location, Kalkin designed a new version, made from seven separate pieces, because the original would not fit through the building’s access doors. He took the opportunity to make a few improvements, so this model is updated with computer-controlled actuators. “The actuators can be controlled more easily,” Kalkin says. “You can increase the speed, acceleration curves, and stop point of each piece by adjusting the control program via a remote laptop, so a more diverse and controlled choreography of the individual pieces is possible.” In both models, 90 percent of the materials—container, steel, and resins—were recycled or are recyclable.

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The house is open to the public, and curious passersby can sample complimentary espresso from illy’s Francis Francis X7Hyper Espresso System, another case of highly caffeinated technology—and one that you can actually buy, when it’s released next spring. Guests can also make donations to Cup of Kindness, a campaign that benefits schools in Ethiopia, a source for Illy’s coffee beans.

The illy Push Button House will be on display on the second floor of the Time Warner Center until December 29, 2007. Operating hours are Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m.–7 p.m.

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