The 57th edition of the Salone del Mobile.Milano has put the spotlight firmly on a fundamental issue facing design now and in the future, which is how to make creativity and innovation compatible with nature, energy consumption control, and the use of sustainable recyclable and non-polluting materials and techniques. The Salone brought the Living Nature. La natura dell’abitare exhibition to the city from 17th to 25th April, in Piazza del Duomo, in front of Palazzo Reale. The project was developed in partnership with the Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA) international design and innovation studio.
A 500 square meter area, conceived with energy saving criteria in mind, contained four natural, climatic microcosms in which all four seasons of the year could coexist alongside each other contemporaneously. Visitors were immersed in nature and experienced its changes as they made their way through the four different areas – Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn. Each season brought with it the opportunity to discover new colors and scenarios; from winter’s snowy white mantle to the gentle hues of spring, from the vivid summer colors to autumnal yellow and orange. Unexpectedly perhaps, these spaces also contained familiar timeless design objects, embellishing them with the rarefied beauty of domestic and design pieces.
From a technical point of view, encapsulating the essence of the seasons within confined spaces has been no mean technological feat, but a fascinating one that has led to integrated and original solutions, developed specifically for this project. A great deal of work has been done on energy flows in order to recreate the extraordinary, delicate balance of the seasons. The integral photovoltaic panels on the outside of the pavilion roof generated clean energy that powered the climate control system of all four pavilions. The entire space functioned like a large refrigerator; the power produced by the panels was harnessed to fuel a heat exchanger, which transferred thermal energy enabling the temperature in the winter area to be kept at around 0°C, preserving the natural snow inside; the heat extracted from this space by means of air treatment underfloor pipe coils and fan convector units was not wasted, but ducted to the summer area and used to recreate its typical seasonal conditions. The position of the four seasons and the membrane covering the pavilion – its level of transparency and resistance to heat permeation in particular – were worked out with dynamic calculation tools so as to reproduce the natural irradiation conditions typical of the corresponding time of year. One of the main objectives of the project was to achieve the greatest possible satisfaction of energy consumption using locally produced energy from renewable sources.
Living Nature exhibition was a small, intelligent and sustainable universe containing four different ecosystems. 23 species of tall tree enjoyed perfect lighting and temperature conditions and an ideal habitat, according to the season. Dotted around the winter area were two different types of Acer, Father David’s Maple and Chinese Paperbark Maple, a Himalayan Birch, a Chinese Scholartree, an Oriental Spruce and two varieties of Pine, a Scots Pine and an Austrian Pine. In the spring area, a Japanese Flowering Crab Apple and a Tibetan Cherry “Branklyn”, both in full bloom, made for a stunning sight, along with an equally enchanting Magnolia x Loebneri. There were also a flowering Myrobalan, a Katsura tree and two varieties of Amelanchier. The summer area contained the welcome shade of a Common Oak, a Common Alder and a Small-Leaved Lime, along with the vivid green of the Common Hornbeam and the Soft Tree Fern. Finally, in the autumn section, the Crab Apple “Rudolph”, the Japanese Maple and the Persian Ironwood made for a riot of warm colors.
As well as the tall trees, each season was also characterized by garden compositions featuring typical plants and flowers. Lastly, there was a huge variety of shrubs, grasses, and bulbous plants for visitors to admire as they wandered around the pavilion.
There was more to Living Nature than this, however. It also told really rather special design stories that were contextualized and related to nature. In a new, holistic approach, each season featured iconic objects that defined four domestic spaces and four family experiences, each entirely different. The pavilion thus became a narration of interior architecture that performed its rightful function while respecting the environment.
Living Nature was a gift from the Salone del Mobile.Milano to “its” city of Milan: an absolutely unique laboratory that combined design, engineering, and botany to test ways in which space, be it domestic or urban, can become more human-friendly by harnessing natural resources in a sustainable manner. Ultimately, the project provided a new starting point and a different perspective on tackling the issues of environmental sustainability and climate change in a bid to improve our living conditions at home and in cities and satisfy the human tendency towards “biophilia” – a term coined by Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson – according to which we are all instinctively attracted by nature and “programmed” to feel better when we are immersed in it.
A Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA) project for the Salone del Mobile.Milano
Concept Design: Carlo Ratti Associati & Studio Römer
Design Development: Carlo Ratti Associati
Set Design: Studio Römer
Engineering Consultant: Ai Studio
Landscape and Botanics: Patrick Blanc; Flavio Pollano
Construction: PAC Team Expo
Graphics: studio FM milano
Furnishings: Arper Capellini, Desalto, Ethimo, Fiam, Glas Italia, Kartell, LaPalma, Living Divani, Magis, Moroso, Muuto, Myyour, and Riva1920
Photographs – Courtesy Salone del Mobile.Milano / Photos by Saverio Lombardi Vallauri and Andrea Mariani