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Reimagining the Office

Carlo Ratti's take on the post-pandemic workplace

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International design and innovation office CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati unveils Pura-Case, a portable wardrobe purifier that uses ozone to remove most micro-organisms, bacteria, and viruses from clothes and fabric. The project aims to address the needs of the “new normal” – that is, the emerging changes brought forward to our domestic life by COVID-19. Pura-Case was commissioned by Scribit, the tech startup which recently converted part of its production line to respond to the current pandemic. Once a piece of garment is hung inside the case, an air purification system by ozone treatment cleans and deodorizes the fabrics. Currently developed as a prototype, Pura-Case is about to be launched through a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.

 

Viruses or bacteria can survive on clothes for long periods. Ozone, a naturally-occurring triatomic form of oxygen (O3), is commonly used in the health and textile industry to sanitize fashion items, objects, and spaces. Pura-Case brings this technology safely into the household. It uses ozone to sterilize clothes while reducing the need for unnecessary washing and thus the consumption of water. Employed together with public health guidelines of the World Health Organization, Pura-Case would help contribute to a more hygienic environment in the house.

 

“As the entire world adjusts to a new normal in terms of health and hygiene, Pura-Case aims to promote top sanitation standards in the key interface between us and the environment – clothes,” says architect Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT Senseable City Lab, who led the Pura-Case design team: “Pura-Case is an alternative to large-sized devices currently being used in hospitals. It can play a vital role in the post-pandemic world next year as we regain our old social life.”

 

“As the entire world adjusts to a new normal in terms of health and hygiene, Pura-Case aims to promote top sanitation standards in the key interface between us and the environment – clothes,” says architect Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT Senseable City Lab, who led the Pura-Case design team: “Pura-Case is an alternative to large-sized devices currently being used in hospitals. It can play a vital role in the post-pandemic world next year as we regain our old social life.”

 

Pura-Case can be installed in a domestic setting and complete a cycle of purification in about one hour. Users can place the clothes inside the case, which accommodates up to four hangers and close it with an air-tight zipper. Using only a small amount of power, an imperceptible discharge will activate the ozone to penetrate the fabric and purify it while at the same time removing its odor. Once the cleaning cycle is completed, the ozone is reduced to oxygen through a natural decay process, ensuring the case is safe to open. The entire process can be started and controlled either via the LED-lit top panel or remotely through the Pura-Case mobile app.

 

Created for offices and households, especially for the people whose work entails frequent contact with strangers – the most exposed to coronavirus infection in the last weeks – Pura-Case is made with sustainable fabrics treated to keep ozone inside.

 

The Pura-Case prototype by CRA was developed for Scribit, the write&erase robot startup named as one of the Best Inventions of the Year by Time Magazine in 2019. Since March 2020, when most production activities have been reduced by the pandemic, Scribit has redirected its efforts to develop projects with a positive social impact. Pura-Case has been developed at Scribit’s factory in Turin, northern Italy.

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As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads internationally, the first prototype of an open-source project to create plug-in intensive care units (ICU) from shipping container is built and installed at a hospital in Italy. CURA (acronym for “Connected Units for Respiratory Ailments” and also “Cure” in Latin) proposes a quick-to-deploy solution to expand emergency facilities and ease the pressure on healthcare systems treating patients infected by coronavirus. CURA strives to be as fast to be mounted as a hospital tent, but as safe as a regular isolation ward to work in, thanks to the comprehensive biocontainment equipment. The first CURA pod has been installed on April 19th, 2020 at a new temporary hospital set up in Turin, northern Italy, one of the world’s hardest-hit regions by the pandemic.

 

CURA was designed and produced in four weeks as a result of the joined effort of an international task force. The group includes, among the others, designers at Carlo Ratti Associati with Italo Rota, engineers at Jacobs, and health technology company Philips for medical equipment supply. The first prototype in Turin has been developed with the financial sponsorship of the Pan European bank UniCredit. CURA is supported by the World Economic Forum (COVID-19 Action Platform and Cities, and Infrastructure and Urban Services Platform). The list of contributors feature Humanitas Research Hospital (Medical Engineering), Policlinico di Milano (Medical Consultancy), MIT Senseable City Lab (Research), Studio FM Milano (Visual Identity & Graphic Design), Squint/Opera (Digital Media), IEC Engineering (Fulvio Sabato – Safety and Certifications), Alex Neame of Team Rubicon UK (Logistics), Ivan Pavanello of Projema (MEP Engineering), Dr. Maurizio Lanfranco of Ospedale Cottolengo (Medical Consultancy), Gruppo Boero (Painting Products).

 

Each unit is hosted in a 20-foot intermodal container, repurposed with biocontainment equipment. An extractor creates indoor negative pressure, complying with the standards of Airborne Infection Isolation Rooms AIIRs. Two glass windows carved on the opposite sides of the containers are meant for doctors to always get a sense of the status of patients both inside and outside the pods. Also, this would potentially allow external visitors to get closer to their relatives in a safer and more humane setting. Each pod works autonomously and can be promptly shipped to any location around the world, adapting to the needs of the local healthcare infrastructure.

 

The first CURA pod has been built and installed in the framework of the temporary hospital set up by top Italian health authorities in the former OGR industrial complex in the city of Turin. CURA provides ICUs for the hospital, which has about 90 beds for patients affected by coronavirus. The pod contains all the medical equipment needed for two ICU patients, including ventilators and monitors as well as intravenous fluid stands and syringe drivers. The unit is connected to the rest of the hospital by an inflatable structure, which serves as storage and changing room. Potentially, the inflatable unit can be used to connect more than one pod to create multiple modular configurations, either in proximity to a hospital or as a self-standing field hospital.

 

CURA has been developed as an open-source project, with its tech specs, drawings and design materials made accessible for everyone online on https://curapods.org/open-source-files. Such collective endeavor has also created an opportunity for testing new methods for international design collaboration. Since the project’s launch, in late March, more than two thousand people have shown an interest and contacted the CURA team to join the project, reproduce it, or provide technical advises. While the first prototype becomes operative in Italy, more units are currently under construction in other parts of the world, from UAE to Canada.

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International design and innovation office CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati, in partnership with Mobility in Chain (MIC), has unveiled a new vision for the waterfront of Lugano, Switzerland. The proposed plan envisions a new system of spaces for public enjoyment, featuring a floating garden island connected by a new water navigation system and reconfigurable roads capable of responding to people in real-time. The project aims to increase the number of connections between the city and lake by overhauling the main traffic artery cutting through Lugano’s shore.

 

The vision addresses the present disconnection between Lugano and its lake. The congested waterfront will become partly pedestrianized, with the addition of a dynamic road system that can be configured with zero, one or two lanes at different times of the day, as well as shared surfaces with playgrounds and social gathering spaces. Electric autonomous vehicles and micro-mobility solutions will integrate private mobility into the new plan. The proposed dynamic waterfront also includes a system of smart signage, responsive street furniture, infrastructure that produces clean energy from heat absorption, and a series of mobility hubs where people can select their preferred, shared mode of transport.

 

“Lugano is committed in redesigning the front lake and the city center for the future citizens, focusing on a growing attention to dynamic public spaces, the coexistence of different mobility vectors, the development of green areas, the role of the water in city life, the impact of the landscape, and much more,” says Marco Borradori, Mayor of Lugano. “The path began in 2018 when the Municipality went public with its vision and objectives, identifying innovation as one of the key points for urban development. The next step will hopefully be an open competition to create a new master plan for the city of tomorrow. Our wish is that the vision could soon take the form of a realized project”.

 

“Lugano’s distinctive waterfront, nestled between the Swiss Alps and the glacial lake, is an opportunity to create a responsive edge for the city, experimenting with novel ways of blending nature and urban space,” says Carlo Ratti, founding partner at CRA and director of the Senseable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

 

“By analyzing mobile and traffic data and backing up the mobility concept’s definition with a model-based scientific approach, we supported CRA’s urban vision of transforming the fracture of today’s Lakefront vehicular axis into a responsive space, hosting new mobility solutions and enabling the waterfront to adjust dynamically to the vibrant ecosystem of Lugano,” says Federico Parolotto, Senior Partner at MIC.

 

The proposed regeneration was initially presented to private partners involved in the Lugano Living Lab, a collaborative platform to promote urban development through innovation in the area. Companies involved in the Lugano Living Lab and interested in the regeneration of Lugano expressed their support for the project.

 

The focus of the intervention preserves the historical value of the lakefront designed by Pasquale Lucchini in 1863 and envisions it as a transition zone between the city and the water. Among the proposed interventions, the vision plan outlines ways to physically connect Lugano and its lake – allowing the town to stretch out onto the lake thanks to a newly created floating island accessible to the public. The rotating island would be connected to the city by a series of boardwalks, and it would host a series of public spaces, including a garden to preserve the biodiversity of Lake Lugano.

 

The vision plan for Lugano continues CRA’s research into reconfigurable urban spaces that leverage new technologies to respond to people’s needs in real-time. Previous examples include MIND, the former site of Milan’s 2015 World Fair, reimagined by CRA as an “urban living lab” – a new type of public space with plazas, vegetable gardens, offices, research centers, university faculties, residences and cultural spaces that will be integrated alongside areas for urban agriculture and the world’s first neighborhood planned for autonomous mobility. In 2018, CRA also collaborated with Alphabet’s sister company Sidewalk Labs in Toronto to develop a prototype of a flexible paving system that allows for a greater degree of flexibility in how a street is used throughout the day. Furthermore, the vision plan for Lugano draws on research by the MIT Senseable City Lab on the urban impact of self-driving technology and shared mobility models.

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The world’s most visited architecture exhibition, the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture of Shenzhen and Hong Kong, has opened in the city of Shenzhen, southern China. The “Eyes of the City” section was curated by Carlo Ratti (Chief Curator), Politecnico di Torino and the South China University of Technology (Academic Curators). It aims to start a critical discussion on the impact of new technologies on cities – from Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) to algorithmic design, from autonomous mobility to facial recognition. The exhibition will stay open until March 2020.

 

“Eyes of the City” features over 60 projects from leading architecture firms as well as from research centers and emerging practices, selected through a 12-month long “open-curatorship” process. All projects were entirely fabricated in Shenzhen – with open-source blueprints available for download online. Most works engage new technology on the exhibition premises – including a facial recognition system that powers the info points designed by Dutch office MVRDV (a custom sticker by The Cooper Union team, however, allows visitors to “opt out” of the system).

 

The venue for “Eyes of the City” is the expansive high-speed railway station of Futian, which was transformed into an exhibition space that invites visitors by using tactics reminiscent of those employed in malls or duty-free shops. Graphic design by Mieke Gerritzen mimics station signage and guides willing passersby inside the exhibition, surprising them with unexpected architecture and design installations. A 1-kilometer-long infographic developed by Northeastern University professor Paolo Ciuccarelli on backlit walls encircles the space, presenting key data about the exhibition and the “open-curatorship” process.

 

Key facts about the “Eyes of the City” exhibition:

 

1. A critical reflection on urban tech. Building on American urbanist Jane Jacobs’ “eyes on the street” phrase, “Eyes of the City” explores how streets and buildings are acquiring the ability “to see”. What happens when the sensor-imbued city has eyes and can look at us? Participants to an open call launched by the curatorial team in April 2019 submitted design and research projects as well as critical essays, with 280 contributions collected from 28 countries, in a well-balanced representation between China and the rest of the world.

 

At Futian station, the exhibition is divided into eight sub-sections, each of them delving into a different aspect of the “Eyes of the City” scenario – from Shenzhen’s unique position as the “World’s Urban Lab” to data-driven advancements in design and construction methods, from the natural-artificial relationship to the possibilities of new “resisting technologies”.

 

One section of “Eyes of the City” investigates the future of mobility, with a wide focus on changes in urban infrastructure ushered in by new technologies, including self-driving vehicles. “Mobility Landscapes” features projects by Airbus and MVRDV, Dominique Perrault Architecture, KAAN Architecten, KPF, Mobility in Chain, MOTOelastico, University of Technology Sydney and Harbin Institute of Technology, Warehouse of Architecture and Research+Paolo Santi.

 

The full list of the installations on display in Shenzhen can be found on the Biennale’s official website: http://szhkbiennale.org.cn/.

 

2. Challenging facial recognition in public space. “Eyes of the City” is the first public exhibition to incorporate facial recognition technology on its very premises. Dutch office MVRDV designed an info point pavilion where visitors are facially scanned upon accessing the Biennale’s venue. However, unlike in systems deployed in cities all over the world, visitors can opt not to be recognized by wearing a special mark to remain anonymous and signal their stance to others. The installation concept was developed in collaboration with The Cooper Union and advocates for the possibility of “opting out” from facial recognition.

 

“Today, a Biennale cannot be, as it once was, a gallery of curated projects, but needs to be a forum for debating pressing societal issues”, says Carlo Ratti, founding partner of CRA design and innovation office and director of the Senseable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “As the “Eyes of the City” focus their gaze on us, it is time for us to look back at them – and better understand ourselves in the process.”

 

“‘Eyes of the City’ explores the crucial role that technology is destined to play in our everyday lives. Our tech-enhanced cities could become spaces that improve people’s well-being, but they could also become dystopian. The antidote to this is an open, international discussion and exchange of knowledge. This is the first Shenzhen Biennale with a strong academic presence, and our objective is to set up a platform for debate,” says Michele Bonino, professor at Politecnico di Torino.

 

The main themes explored as part of “Eyes of the City” also provide the basis for a series of talks and panels that will bring international and local speakers to Shenzhen to continue the conversation beyond the exhibition. Documents from all the “marathon talks” will be archived on the Eyes of the City website.

 

3. A locally-made, open-source Biennale. All installations in the “Eyes of the City” section were produced locally and assembled on-site, without resorting to international shipping and hence reducing global CO2 emissions. Such stance is both a tribute to Shenzhen’s role as “factory of the world” and a way to push the boundaries of digital fabrication. For each project, exhibitors provided a series of blueprints to instruct Shenzhen-based manufacturers on how to build the exhibits. The blueprints have been made accessible online, in an open-source way, to allow people to download them and replicate or further develop specific projects and tools: https://eyesofthecity.net/diy/

 

“Eyes of the City” has also established a partnership with the Fab Foundation, representing the world’s largest network of Fab Labs, to ensure people who are not able to join the debate in Shenzhen can continue the discussion prompted by the exhibition by interacting with the varied network of Fab Labs across the world – including Hong Kong (Openground), Shenzhen (SZOIL), Milan, Seoul, San Francisco, Boston and Lima. Individual Fab Labs could come together and experiment with ideas and projects that were first introduced in Shenzhen, enhancing their scalability or simply reinterpreting them based on their local context.

 

4. Using a station as a discursive venue. “Eyes of the City” extends over a surface of more than 5,000 square meters and is located inside the Futian station, one of Asia’s largest mobility hubs. This venue has become the opportunity to reflect on the changing nature of stations in the digitally augmented city. For centuries, stations were places where one could experience urban anonymity in its highest form; today, they are becoming places of personal data collection. Stations as well as airports are the right places to start a critical reflection on how the “Eyes of the City” scenario might evolve.

 

The exhibition was designed as a meandering path similar to shopping malls or duty-free shops inside transportation hubs. Graphics by Dutch designer Mieke Gerritzen draws inspiration from station signage. Moreover, a 1-kilometer-long data visualization, developed by Northeastern University professor Paolo Ciuccarelli, is placed on backlit walls and tells the story of the curatorial team’s “open-source approach” while enclosing the entire space in data and light.

 

The “Eyes of the City” exhibition’s unusual venue ultimately becomes an opportunity to engage a wider audience of visitors and passersby in order to spark an inclusive conversation. This is consistent with UABB’s mission to extend the architecture and urbanism discourse to the general public. In 2017, the Shenzhen Biennale welcomed more than 550,000 international visitors, making it the world’s most attended architecture exhibition.

Exactly one year before the opening of the World Fair in Dubai (Expo 2020), Italy unveils the final design for its national pavilion, conceived by CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati, Italo Rota Building Office, matteogatto&associati and F&M Ingegneria. As if docking after a journey by sea, three boats will arrive in Dubai and become the backbone of the pavilion, part of an exploration into recycling, circularity and reconfigurable architecture. The Pavilion will open its doors to the public on October 20th, 2020, in Dubai, U.A.E., and will remain open until April 10th, 2021.

 

The radical design is based on a circular approach to architecture. Three boats will arrive in Dubai and will be converted into the pavilion’s roofscape. In a similar way, the project integrates sustainable materials – such as orange peels, coffee grounds, mycelium and recycled plastic extracted from the ocean – as construction elements.

 

The pavilion is exposed to the atmosphere, using natural climate control strategies instead of air conditioning. Space is delimited by an adaptable façade made of LED curtains and nautical ropes, which will create a digital layer able to broadcast multimedia content.

 

“We liked the idea of a pavilion that would continuously mutate into different forms,” says Carlo Ratti, founding partner of CRA practice and director of the MIT Senseable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “We  pursued a kind of architecture that could be reconfigured both in the long term – because of its circularity – and in the short term – thanks to digital technologies.”

 

“The pavilion is circular in nature. Nothing goes to waste; instead, we reclaim it and reimagine its purpose,” says architect Italo Rota, founding partner of Italo Rota Building Office. “The sea will figuratively enter the structure through one of its living organisms, seaweeds, which will be used to produce energy and food.”

 

The pavilion’s roof is a sinuous surface that recalls sea and desert waves. The base of the pavilion is carved out of a giant sand dune, accessible to people. The project makes a conscious effort to integrate materials that hint at Dubai’s local geography, as well as organic waste to experiment with more sustainable building practices and engage with the circular economy. For instance, the exhibition will stretch over a dune made with real sand, while the skywalk will be clad in innovative materials obtained from discarded orange peels and used coffee grounds.

 

The project explores the importance of history, tradition and memory in sparking innovation, while paying tribute to the seafaring populations that have inhabited the Mediterranean basin through history, shaping a common cultural heritage.

 

“Italy brings an Innovation Hub to Expo 2020,” says Paolo Glisenti, General Commissioner for Italy at Expo Dubai 2020. “A pavilion with an innovative structure, inspired by the most advanced elements of sustainability and circular economy, which will not simply be an exhibition venue, but a demonstration of Italian competence and the best national talent”.

 

The pavilion continues CRA’s ongoing experimentation with innovative exhibition structures at World Fairs. Previous projects include the Digital Water Pavilion, a water-based structure at Expo Zaragoza 2008 that employed sensors to interpret and react to people’s movements–and was named by Time magazine one of the “Best Inventions of the Year”– and the Future Food District, an interactive retail space developed for Expo Milan 2015.

CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati, in partnership with global energy company Eni, has developed an experimental Circular Juice Bar that uses oranges to make bioplastic, turns it into filament, and 3D print disposable cups to drink the freshly-squeezed juice.

 

The “Feel the Peel” prototype is a 3,10-meter high orange squeezer machine, topped by a dome filled with 1,500 oranges. When a person orders a juice, oranges slide down into the squeezer, while its peels are accumulated above, then transformed into bioplastic through a process of drying and milling. Once heated and melted, the polymer becomes a filament, used by a 3D printer incorporated into the machine.

 

“The principle of circularity can be an inspiration for tomorrow’s everyday life objects”, says Carlo Ratti, founding partner at CRA and director of the Senseable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: “Working with Eni, we played around a machine that helps us to understand how oranges can be used well beyond their juice. In the next iterations of these projects, we might add new functions, such as printing fabric for clothing”.

 

After having premiered at Rimini’s 40th Meeting for friendship among peoples, the Circular Juice Bar will be installed also at the Singularity University Summit in Milan on October 8 and 9 in Milan, and at Ecomondo Rimini in November, the leading event in Europe for the new models of the circular economy.

CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati unveils the world’s first crowdsourced graffiti, designed by thousands of people and painted by a swarm of drones in the city of Torino, Italy. The large-scale painting (14×12-meter, or 46×39-foot) was developed as part of UFO-Urban Flying Opera, a participatory technology and art project funded by Compagnia di San Paolo, ideated and curated by CRA, and produced by Fondazione LINKS, in collaboration with Tsuru Robotics.

 

The final vertical graffiti was created by four UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) flying simultaneously over two consecutive days. Each drone carried a tank of sustainable spray paint and sketched the individual designs on the canvas. The final painting was divided in three layers: A gray one to set the story, a magenta one to represent Torino’s communities and public spaces, and a light blue one to visually wrap the storytelling.

 

The experiment in Torino’s Aurelio Peccei park, on the outskirts of the city, represented the first time a swarm of drones was employed to create a collaborative piece of art on a vertical surface. A central management system controlled the UAVs’ behavior in real time, and a monitoring system tracked their precise location, allowing for movement coordination across the entire formation. The drone performance took place on June 25th and 26th, 2019, in a cathedral-like industrial structure that used to belong to Italian car manufacturer Iveco. The event was part of the Italian Tech Week.

 

Project participants were invited to contribute visual content that would convey their thoughts, hopes and ideas regarding what cities should look like. More than one thousand people submitted their designs, out of which around 100 were selected in partnership with the University of Turin and the Polytechnic University of Turin. Participants used about 620 meters (2,034 feet) of paint.

 

“The city is an open canvas, where people can inscribe their stories in many ways,” says professor Carlo Ratti, founder of CRA practice and director of the Senseable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): “Such processes have always been happening; however, with UFO we tried to accelerate them, using drone technology to allow for a new use of painting as a means of expression.”

How will urban highways look like in 2050? Can they be transformed from urban and social barriers into flexible spaces for living, playing and farming? These are some of the questions addressed by the “New Deal” explored by design and innovation office CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati, as part of a curatorial team led by SEURA Architectes, alongside Jornet Llop Pastor Arquitectes, landscapers Anna Cervera and Marina Zahonero, and Leonard, VINCI Group’s foresight platform. As urban mobility is being reshaped by technological innovations – from EV (Electric vehicles) and AV (Autonomous Vehicles) to data-driven multimodality – the exhibition will explore the future of the French capital’s famous “Peripherique” ring road. The “New Deal” is part of the “Les Routes du Futur du Grand Paris” exhibition, organized by the Forum Métropolitain du Grand Paris and opening at the Pavilion de l’Arsenal on June 6th 2019 (until August 31st 2019).

 

Drawing from scientific research, including that carried out at Carlo Ratti’s MIT Senseable City Lab, the exhibition envisions how Paris’ highways might look like in 2050. By then, autonomous mobility and new technologies will have transformed the mobility landscape, allowing cities to completely rethink 20th-century road infrastructure, hopefully with positive social and environmental consequences.

 

The “New Deal” presents five visions to transform the main highways of Paris’ metropolitan area:

 

The first two visions for 2050 are dedicated to the “Boulevard Peripherique,” the (in)famous highway circling the French capital, like a necklace, for more than 35 kilometers, sometimes running slightly below ground. In “Habiter Le Lateralité” (“Living Laterality”), the current number of car lanes is more than halved, and the remaining space is converted into a reconfigurable playground. In “Habiter les Dessus” (“Living Above”), a series of green residential buildings are placed over the Peripherique almost like a set of inhabitable bridges, recomposing a historical fracture between the two Paris’: that of the historical city and that of the banlieues. Such changes are permitted by EVs and AVs, which could make our roads cleaner, less polluted and safer.

 

The other visions on show at the Pavilion de l’Arsenal are dedicated to three increasingly suburban highways in the Ile de France region, proposing new functions like energy production and farming. “La voie monde” (“The street of the world”) envisions how the gigantic A6 French highway can go from having 12 to four car lanes, using the central part for greenhouses or for a photovoltaic plant to generate solar energy while slashing heat production. “Multimodalite Partout” (“Multimodality Everywhere”) and “La Voie Dynamique” (“The Dynamic Road”) leverage on real-time mobility data to create new public spaces and allow commuters to get to their destination more efficiently.

International design and innovation office CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati has won the “Reinventing Cities” competition organized by the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group with a project for a new office building and center for scientific research in Milan, Italy. The design by CRA features a 200-meter-long (650 feet) urban vineyard that covers the entire building, creating a publicly-accessible footpath that ascends from the street level to the rooftop. The project was developed with the leading real estate group Covivio in a team with the consortium Habitech as environmental experts. Construction will kick off in late 2019.

 

The Reinventing Cities competition, promoted by the C40 network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change, is a call for urban projects to drive carbon-neutral and resilient urban regeneration across the globe and to transform underutilized sites into beacons of sustainability and resilience.  VITAE has won the competition to reinvent a vacant, post-industrial lot in via Serio, a street in south Milan located a few hundred meters from the Fondazione Prada contemporary art museum. The complex includes a brand-new piazza, adding up to a total of more than 5000 square meters of public space given back to one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods.

 

Inspired by the principles of biophilic design, the project takes its name from VITAE, a word whose meaning is “life” in Latin and “vine” in Italian. A green path with a vine-covered pergola gently rises along the walls of the building, creating an extensive promenade for pedestrians. The people who stroll through this green spiral can pass close to a series of terraces and greenhouses for urban farming and hydroponic cultivation.

 

The VITAE building will host a farm-to-table restaurant on the ground level, high-tech offices above, and a series of facilities for the leading molecular and oncology research center ICOM, including terraced guest rooms for its international researchers, on the higher floors. This array of functions seeks to create a harmony between nature and science, public and private life, like a reinterpretation of the social and spatial model of the Charterhouses, such as Milan’s Abbazia di Chiaravalle, located just a few kilometers away from the site of VITAE.

CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati, in partnership with global energy company Eni, has developed an architectural structure made of mushrooms, unveiled at Milan Design Week 2019. The installation, called “The Circular Garden,” was grown from soil over six weeks – and will be returned to the soil at the end of the month. It is composed of a series of arches, adding up to a record 1-kilometer-long mycelium, and experiments with sustainable structures that can grow organically and then return to nature in a fully circular way. The project will be showcased during Milan’s Fuorisalone at Brera’s Orto Botanico, the city’s botanical garden.

 

The Circular Garden pushes the boundaries of using mycelium – the fibrous root of mushrooms – in design. In recent years, mycelium has been employed for sustainable packaging and small brick-like objects. The Circular Garden engages with mycelium at the architectural scale – with a series of 60 4-meter-high arches made of mycelium scattered around the Orto Botanico, for a total of 1 kilometer of mushroom.

 

In order to create self-supporting mycelium structures on such a scale, the project takes inspiration from the great Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. It was he, while designing the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, who resurrected the “inverted catenary” method pioneered in the 18th -century by polymath Giovanni Poleni. According to this method, the best way to create pure compression structures is to find their form using suspended catenaries and then invert them. The same applies to the Circular Garden, where the catenaries compose a series of four architectural “open rooms” scattered throughout the garden.

 

The mycelium was grown in the two months preceding the opening of the Circular Garden with the help of leading experts in the field of mycology – particularly the Dutch Krown.Bio lab. Spores were injected into organic material to start the growth process. In a similarly organic manner, all the mycelium will be shredded at the end of Milan Design Week and go back to the soil, in a circular way. The cycle is similar to what has happened since ancient times in small town or city gardens, through the production of food and the composting of organic waste.

 

“Nature is a much smarter architect than us,” says Carlo Ratti, founding partner of CRA and director of the MIT Senseable City Lab: “As we continue our collective quest for a more responsive ‘living’ architecture, we will increasingly blur the boundaries between the worlds of the natural and the artificial. What if tomorrow we might be able to program matter to ‘grow a house’ like a plant? Milan’s amazing botanical garden, in the center of the city, seemed the ideal place for such an experiment.”
 

“There’s a whimsical short story written by Italian writer Italo Calvino in the 1960s that tells of the wonder of the urbanite Marcovaldo when he suddenly discovers some mushrooms growing in the middle of the city. During our first visits at the Botanical Garden in Milan, we felt a similar amazement,” comments Saverio Panata, project manager at CRA: “We discovered how many varieties of mushrooms were naturally growing in the garden. After that encounter, we thought that mushrooms, with their adaptability and speed of growth, could become our perfect building material.”
 

Many pavilions designed for temporary exhibitions and fairs – such as for Milan Design Week – end up generating large amounts of waste. The Circular Garden project will be reused in a circular fashion – mushrooms, ropes and wood chips will go back to the soil and small metal elements will be recycled. “Life is more important than architecture,” Oscar Niemeyer famously said, a dictum that is at the center of this year’s theme at the INTERNI Human Spaces exhibition. “It is certainly about human life – but it is also increasingly about the life of our planet, intended in a holistic way,” adds Ratti.