When landscapers think of parks or gardens, they think of the energy it takes to build them. But at Milan Design Week 2022, the city’s Botanical Garden was transformed to explore the idea of a park “creating” energy.
International design office CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati and architect Italo Rota conceived “Feeling the Energy.” The installation made use of 500 meters of digitally bent copper pipe to create a sensorial path where people explored different forms of sustainable energy production and consumption. The installation harvested and stored energy during the day, using it to illuminate the Botanical Garden in the evening. It also powered water vaporizers that cooled the garden pathways, while nourishing vegetation.
The installation invited people to wander through Milan’s historical Botanical Garden in a sequence of six main areas to directly experience power produced from the sun, wind, and people’s movements. Each step featured a different object, all made of copper.
Upon entry, visitors immediately discovered a majestic carousel to experience energy in motion. Then, people could walk under a series of portals which played sequences from the renowned Four Seasons symphony by Antonio Vivaldi. The exhibition path also included a giant vibraphone which people were invited to play. Moreover, a tunnel with colored diaphragms laden with organic photovoltaic panels could be opened or closed by those wandering through it, while a canopy featured sensors that could detect people’s presence and activate a cool mist.
“The installation is inspired by the functioning of plant organisms,” says Carlo Ratti, founding partner at CRA and director of the MIT Senseable City Lab: “As trees in a forest draw energy from different sources and then use it locally where they need it – in a certain branch or the end of a leaf – the long copper tube of ‘Feeling the Energy’ absorbs energy in its entire length and then uses it in specific points of the installation path.”
Italo Rota, founder of Italo Rota Building Office, comments, “Playing is a fundamental activity for every human being. This installation suggests new links between play and the world of energy. It shows us that every time we consume energy – whether it’s on a carousel or a swing, or even while producing sound waves – we can recover some of that energy. In addition, the installation hints closely at the theme of efficiency. A simple gesture such as orienting the photovoltaic panels allows us to think practically about saving and optimizing resources.”
The project illustrated what a self-sufficient energy infrastructure looks like, where discrete points are connected in a microgrid. The installation reproduces, on a small scale, what happens with urban, national and even transcontinental energy networks: complex distribution channels are able to connect and supply each node over a long journey.
Previous CRA projects include Cloud Cast, a system that uses motion tracking and ceiling-mounted misting elements to provide localized cooling, and The Greenary, a private house built around a 10-meter-tall ficus tree in northern Italy. At a previous Design Week exhibition, CRA developed Living Nature, a garden pavilion where all four seasons coexisted with each other at the same time, thanks to an innovative energy management system for climate control.
For more on innovative park design, see “Brooklyn Bridge Park Wins International Landscape Prize.”