Carlo Ratti Associati: an eco-friendly house built around wood

Caring for nature is a current trend. Trees and plants become full participants in interiors: this is demonstrated by the project of the International Design and innovation bureau CRA (Carlo Ratti Associati). Architects have proposed a plan for the renovation of an Italian farmhouse near Parma, in which the living space is located around a ten-meter ficus tree.

The house, located in the northern Italian countryside, was commissioned by Francesco Mutti, CEO of the Mutti company, one of the famous European producers of tomato products. Mutti didn’t just want comfortable and modern housing: he wanted to show through his example that large companies should support research into new ways of merging architecture, natural elements and advanced technological solutions.

The CRA Bureau, in partnership with the Italo Rota studio, called this project Greenary (the play on words is emphasized here, and the word denotes two concepts at once, “green” and “barn”). Farmhouse demonstrates new approaches to blurring the boundaries between the natural and the artificial. Numerous rooms of this house are surrounded by tree branches. This plan responds to the idea of ​​biophilia, a scientific hypothesis of the famous biologist and Harvard professor E.O. Wilson, suggesting that people have an innate desire to be closer to nature. The concept was realized by building the house around a 60-year-old Ficus Alma, a hardy species of Ficus australis that is well suited to indoor conditions.

To create ideal conditions for the tree, CRA designers completely redesigned the old farmhouse to maximize natural light. A ten-meter-high glass wall was installed on the south side. The design uses technology and environmental microclimate to control temperature and humidity to suit both the occupants and the tree alike. The windows and roof can open and close automatically, making it easy to regulate the amount of sunlight and fresh air entering the house.

The Greenary residence consists of seven terraced spaces – three above the entrance level, and three below it. These dynamic, interconnected rooms reinterpret the principles of architect Adolf Loos, who placed nature at the core. Upon entering the house, you find yourself in a space where the level is one meter lower in relation to the kitchen and living room, and this allows you to see the idyllic meadow. The other levels of the house are designed as a journey through a beautiful landscape. Nature has literally become part of the interior space – for example, soil is included in the flooring.

Carlo Ratti, founding partner of CRA and professor at MIT, explains his concept: “Italian architect Carlo Scarpa once said: “Between a tree and a house, choose a tree.” Although I share his opinion, I think we can go further and connect the two together. Much of CRA’s work focuses on the intersection of the natural and built worlds. With this villa we are trying to introduce a new domestic landscape based on the rhythms of nature.”

The area of ​​the house is more than 2.5 hectares. Here, in addition to living quarters, there is also a working space, created on the site of a granary. The garden surrounding both buildings was created by renowned landscape designer Paolo Peirone and reflects the diversity of the Parma region. Italo Rota, one of the partners in this project, says: “We were dealing with a flat landscape, where there are no mountains, no hills, no lakes – only plains, bathed in beautiful, changing light. It gives the estate an almost cinematic quality. The nature surrounding the villa inspired us to find harmony between natural and artificial elements.” Andrea Cassi, partner at CRA, adds: “Light enters the interior space through a broken brick wall, a Corten steel staircase and tree branches. At the same time, it highlights the architectural details of the house and fills it with subtle shades.”

The residence was the first completed phase of CRA’s master plan for the area. Further transformations include the construction of a factory and dining and restaurant complex. All of them will include the innovations that CRA and Rota demonstrated together with Matteo Gatto and F&M Ingegneria in the Italian Pavilion at Expo Dubai 2020: with a structure of 3,500 sq. meters, the circular economy was explored.

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