CRA – Carlo Ratti Associati, the renowned international design and innovation office in collaboration with Italo Rota designed ‘The Greenary’. The private residence revolves around a ten-meter-tall Ficus tree at the centre of the house. All the way to its top, ‘The Greenary’ has multiple living quarters encircling the tree’s leafy branches.
‘The Greenary’ is a private residence. Francesco Mutti, CEO of Mutti, the European leading producer of tomato-related products commissioned the project. The house is the testament of CRA’s research into new ways of fusing architecture, natural elements and advanced technological solutions in an innovative manner.
The traditional Italian farmhouse was redesigned to showcase new approaches to blur the boundaries between the natural and the artificial. Located at the centre of the living space, the Ficus tree is the centre of attraction of the residence. The farmhouse is located in the northern Italian countryside, outside the city of Parma.
The project ‘The Greenary’ was coined by combining the two words – ‘Green-Granary’. It responds to the idea of biophilia, a scientific hypothesis proposed by noted biologist and Harvard professor E.O. Wilson. He suggests that human beings share an innate desire to live close to nature.
The 60-year-old Ficus tree, named ‘Alma’ standing in the middle of the living space is the true expression of the concept. The tree belongs to a species called ficus australis. The species is known to enjoy stable temperatures all through the year. It is well-suited for indoor living conditions.
In Buddhism, the ‘Bodhi’ tree, close relative ficus religiosa is venerated by Buddhists. It is under the ‘Bodhi’ tree Prince Siddhartha achieved enlightenment to become the great Gautam Buddha. All across China, one can find ficus microcarpa adorned in the ancient parks.
CRA completely redesigned the old farmhouse to maximize natural light, installing a ten-meter-tall, south-facing glass wall to create the ideal setting for the tree to thrive.
The design harnesses technology and the micro-climate of the surrounding area to control the temperature and humidity, so that the tree and the home’s occupants can live together comfortably. Both the windows and the roof can be opened and closed automatically to adjust the amount of sunlight and fresh air entering the house.
Director of Italo Rota Building Office Italo Rota reveals, “In a flat landscape, in which there are no mountains, hills, or lakes, but only plains, nature expresses itself through a beautiful light that changes throughout the day. It adds a charming and almost film-like quality to the atmosphere. The environmental conditions around ‘The Greenary’ inspired our design. This represents one of the different expressions we use to illustrate the harmony between natural and artificial elements.”
The dynamic interconnected rooms reinterpret the 20th Century architect Adolf Loos’ principle of the ‘Raumplan – with nature at its core’. ‘The Greenary’ consists of seven terraced spaces, with three among them above the entrance and three below it.
Dr. Carlo Ratti explains, “Much of our work focuses on the intersection between the natural and the artificial worlds. With ‘The Greenary’, we are trying to imagine a new domestic landscape built around nature and its rhythm. The 20th Century Italian architect Carlo Scarpa once had said, ‘Between a tree and a house, choose the tree.’ While I resonate with his sentiment, I think we can go a step further and put the two together.”
CRA Partner Andrea Cassi adds, “Light enters the interior space through the pierced brick wall, Corten steel stairs and tree branches. By doing so, it also mingles with the architectural details of the house, and leaves subtle shades all around it.”
Upon arrival, residents and visitors descend one metre to the main living area and the kitchen, which puts them at eye level with the idyllic meadow outside. The other levels of the house were conceived to form a naturally-inspired journey, throughout which the tree serves as a prominent pillar. Nature is also incorporated in other forms throughout the interior space, such as in flooring that incorporates soil and orange peels.
The house was built on a site that spans over 2.5 hectares. Apart from the main residential unit, CRA also converted a granary at the back of the house into a workspace. Surrounding both buildings, a garden cultivated by renowned landscape designer Paolo Pejrone celebrates the biodiversity of the local region.
The residence represents the first completed component in CRA’s master plan for the area. Other planned buildings include a factory facility and a canteen-restaurant complex.
Image Courtesy: Carlo Ratti Associati
Photographer: DSL Studio