Energy company Eni and international design and innovation office CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati present “Natural Capital,” one of the largest data visualizations ever produced. Located in the Brera Botanical Garden, in Milan, the project aims to demonstrate the key role that trees play in producing oxygen, by showing how much CO2 each individual tree species can capture and store. The same amount of CO2 would be released in the atmosphere if the trees were removed, thus making it crucial to promote forestry protection instead of deforestation. “Natural Capital” aims to be one of the largest data visualizations projects ever produced, and also showcases Eni’s commitment to forestry initiatives. The project will open to the public during the Milan Design Week 2021 as part of INTERNI’s “Creative Connections” exhibition, from 4 to 12 September 2021.
“Natural Capital” experiments with a giant data visualization that extends over a 500-square-meter garden. A series of floating bubbles are nestled amongst the vegetation of Brera Botanical Garden, one of the country’s most fascinating urban gardens, which sits in the center of Italy’s design capital. Each bubble is of a different size – from a few centimeters to a few meters – in proportion to the amount of carbon dioxide that the corresponding trees can capture and store during their lifecycle.
At the entrance to the garden is a giant sphere, which lies on the ground. It represents the amount of CO2 produced on average by the human body every year. The contrast between the sphere and the floating bubbles suspended among the branches immediately illuminates the fundamental role that plants play in guaranteeing the planet’s health and limiting global warming. The comparison allows visitors to understand the symbiosis between humans and nature: the former produces carbon dioxide, the latter stores it.
“We are all aware of the positive role that plants and forests play in absorbing CO2. But how can we better elucidate this connection?” asks Carlo Ratti, founding partner at CRA and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Natural Capital aims to experiment with a new design medium, turning data visualization into a tangible, spatial experience, bringing the natural and the artificial worlds a little bit closer together.”
The estimation of ecosystem services (e.g. carbon sequestration and storage, reduction of pollution, increasing of wellbeing) have been done by professor Alessio Fini of the Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of Milan. Using data from previous research projects QUALIVIVA, funded by Mipaaf, SmartUrban, funded by Regione Toscana, and LIFE URBANGREEN, funded by the EU, professor Fini’s team calculated ecosystem services from dozens of species growing in Milan’s Orto Botanico. Estimated ecosystem services included the amount of CO2 sequestered annually by plants as well as the total amount of CO2 stored by each plant over its whole lifespan. For example, the persimmon (Diospyros kaki) in the Orto Botanico stores about 1400 kg CO2 as woody biomass and can sequester about 61 kg CO2 per year, while the bog pine (Pinus mugo) sequesters less than 1 kg CO2 per year.
The installation draws on Eni’s commitment to protecting and conserving forests as one of the pillars of its decarbonization strategy towards a sustainable world. Several initiatives led by the company follow the UN-designed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) scheme, supporting the development of local communities by promoting economic and social activities.
“Natural Capital” advances the ongoing collaboration between CRA and Eni, whose objective is to explore new circular economy and sustainability paradigms. Recent projects include the prize-winning Circular Garden at Milan Design Week 2019, produced in collaboration with INTERNI, which used one kilometer of mushroom mycelium as a recyclable building material to form a series of catenary arches interspersed among vegetation. Later that year, CRA and Eni also presented Feel the Peel, a prototype of an orange squeezing machine that makes 3D-printed bioplastic drinking cups out of orange peels.
A project by CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati for Eni
Part of “INTERNI Creative Connections” exhibition
Creative Lead: Italo Rota
Scientific research: Alessio Fini (Università di Milano). Results have been obtained from projects SmartUrban, Qualiviva, and LIFE URBANGREEN
CRA Team: Carlo Ratti, Antonio Atripaldi (Project Manager), Saverio Panata, Luca Giacolini, Chiara Borghi, Matteo Zerbi, Nicola Scaramuzza, Serena Giardina, Alessandro Tassinari, Aurora Maggio, Irem Ceri, Oliver Kazimir
Renderings by CRA graphic team: Gary di Silvio, Pasquale Milieri, Gianluca Zimbardi