Italian architect Carlo Ratti and Itali Rota have unveiled MEET, a center for digital culture in Milan designed to maximize chance encounters between visitors. The project occupies a historic palazzo, known for decades as one of the great symbols of cultural life in the city. At its core, there is a wide vertical public space – including a 15-meter-high habitable stairwell – which can seamlessly turn from theater to workspace to meeting area, and serves as the focal point for all the center’s daily activities and events. The building also features lighting design by Artemide.
With the MEET project, CRA aims to investigate the meaning of physical space in an increasingly digitized world. It argues that architecture should foster unexpected encounters between people, precisely those that are missing in the digital realm. The design of MEET strives to achieve this aim through the hybridization of functions – that is, the possibility for any space to simultaneously host different activities. Such a design approach is best expressed by the central vertical plaza, but it extends throughout the center, to multiple rooms for exhibitions, talks, and performances.
“What is the role of physical space in a digital world? Today, we continue to live and work in pandemic-induced isolation where almost anything can be done online. At this time, it is vital to use architecture to produce serendipitous moments and help foster new connections – precisely those that rarely happen on the web,” says Carlo Ratti, founding partner of CRA and professor of the practice of Urban Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “One way to achieve this objective is to overcome any strict division of spatial functions. When every place can serve multiple purposes, it brings together multiple communities, facilitating the generation and circulation of new ideas.”
The vertical plaza at the core of the building embodies the project’s vision. All around a brightly-colored stairwell that moves in a zigzagging fashion, people can stop onto a series of asymmetric landings, enriched by a system of multimedia projections. These spaces can be used for talks, installations, art performances. Most importantly, they encourage chance encounters as people navigate through the building.
The MEET venue embeds digital technologies into physical space with an array of advanced projection systems and screens scattered across the building. This allows people to access MEET’s digital archive in unexpected ways. Drawing on the idea of “ubiquitous computing” put forward by scientist Mark Weiser, who argued that digital technology would become so pervasive that it will “recede into the background of our lives”, the project transforms architecture itself into a medium to share knowledge and culture.
MEET is hosted in a palatial building in the central Milanese neighborhood of Porta Venezia. The palace was built in the early 20th century and expanded by renowned Italian architect Gae Aulenti in the late 1990s. The MEET venue as renovated by CRA and Italo Rota extends over 1,500 square meters (16,000 square feet) across three levels. Among other functions, it accommodates a reconfigurable auditorium and movie theater operated in collaboration with the longstanding Cineteca Italiana, a café, and an immersive hall for digital installations.