At Milan Design Week 2022, international design and innovation office CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati and architect Italo Rota unveil a project that turns the city’s Botanical Garden into an energy park. “Feeling the Energy” makes use of 500 meters of digitally bent copper pipe to create a sensorial path where people can explore different forms of sustainable energy production and consumption. The project is developed for Plenitude as part of the Design Week’s INTERNI Re.Generation exhibition. The copper is provided by KME, one of the world’s largest producers of this material. “Feeling the Energy” will be open to the public until 13th June 2022.
The installation invites people to wander through Milan’s historical Botanical Garden, in a sequence of six main stages: Energy Carousel, Garden Orchestra, The Leading Logo, Powering Vibrations, Blinds in the Sun, Solar Garden. These make it possible to directly experience how energy can be produced from the sun, wind, and people’s movements. Each step features a different object, all made of copper. The installation harvests and stores energy during the day, using it to illuminate the Botanical Garden in the evening. It also powers water vaporizers that will cool the garden pathways while at the same time nourishing the vegetation.
Visitors access the Botanical Garden and immediately discover a majestic carousel where they can experience the energy in motion. After that, people can walk under a series of portals that plays sequences from the renowned Four Seasons symphony by Italian baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi, performed by the Ensemble Strumentale la Barocca of the Symphony Orchestra of Milan. The exhibition path also includes a giant vibraphone which people are invited to play. Moreover, a tunnel with colored diaphragms laden with organic photovoltaic panels can be opened or closed by those wandering through it, while a canopy features sensors that can 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.”
“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,” says Italo Rota, founder of Italo Rota Building Office.
The Plenitude project illustrates 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. Moreover, the copper tube features antimicrobial properties, which are particularly beneficial to allowing safe contacts between visitors joining the experience. The same material will be reused at the end of the event, following the principles of circular design.
CRA has explored the Natural and the Artificial as well as energy production at different scales, in a variety of projects. These 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 previous Design Week exhibitions, CRA developed temporary installations that use technology to devise alternative sustainable futures. For instance Living Nature, in Milan’s main square Piazza del Duomo, recreated a garden pavilion where all four seasons coexist with each other at the same time, thanks to an innovative energy management system for climate control.