Sparks Circular economy

Welcome to the Circular Garden

 By Paola Arpino
Circular economy

The hortus conclusus was a typical Medieval garden initially found in monasteries and used for growing edible and medicinal plants. The garden was surrounded by four high walls that kept the rest of the world outside and protected the natural surroundings inside, providing the perfect conditions for things to grow and ideas to emerge, develop freely and in some cases even change the world…

Saverio Panata: the story of The Circular Garden

It was, in fact, this very image of the Medieval garden that inspired Carlo Ratti, founder of design and innovation studio Carlo Ratti Associati and director of the MIT Senseable City Lab, when Eni approached him to create an architectural work that would embody the theme of this year’s Fuorisalone in Milan: the circular economy.
As co-producer of the INTERNI Human Spaces exhibition to be staged in Milan from 8-19 April, Eni will be showcasing its Circular Garden installation at the Orto Botanico di Brera botanical garden, designed by Ratti as an example of sustainable architecture.

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The Circular Garden, presented by Eni in the Botanical Garden of Brera this year, as an example of sustainable architecture

The Circular Garden

The Circular Garden comprises a series of giant arches, each standing 4m high and built from mycelium – an organic material made up of the fibrous roots of fungi. The structures will then be returned to the land at the end of the exhibition and used as fertilizer.
In nature, there is no such thing as waste: what one living thing leaves behind is recovered by another to create new life. The same thing happens in the circular economy, where goods are designed to have a second incarnation, extending their usefulness either by transforming them into new products or using them as new resources.

The team at Carlo Ratti based the project on these very principles.

The making of The Circular Garden

Adopting this kind of approach to designing the Circular Garden meant offering a vision of a sustainable future by using a material that comes with a kind of ‘pre-programmed intelligence’, allowing the structure to grow independently and organically.
In terms of design, the aim of this year’s exhibition theme was to inspire the creation of new objects and processes that could improve our lives and how we live together.
Visitors to the Circular Garden will get the opportunity to experience this first-hand; after all, if even the architectural structures themselves can be entirely recycled, then almost everything we throw away can, in fact, be recovered.

 

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The Circular Garden is an example of entirely recyclable architecture (Marco Beck Peccoz)

This concept was an integral part of creating the structure, as Mr. Ratti tells us in this interview.

To evoke the concept of the ‘circular economy’, you identified mycelium as an organic material that could be used to create architectural structures. Can you tell us a bit about where this idea came from?

I actually got the idea when I was visiting the botanical garden, which has always been associated with a certain kind of “circularity”. The garden is not just the place where food products come from; if you think about the Medieval garden in particular, the leftovers from the table ended up as fertilizer — an excellent example of the circular economy. A few months ago, while walking in the botanical garden, we noticed lots of little fungi poking out of the ground, and this inspired the idea of a form of architecture that would grow and develop almost like a natural element. So that’s how we ended up growing about 1km of mycelium for the installation in the botanical garden.

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The Brera Botanical Garden has welcomed almost 1 kilometre of mycelium into its own space (Marco Beck Peccoz)

What do you think visitors might make of this separate space within the exhibition and what would you like them to ‘take away’ with them from their visit?

We are looking at a type of architecture that is halfway between organic and inorganic, so we would like every visitor to go away with a greater awareness of the circular economy. We see so many installations at Fuorisalone that all end up in landfill once design week is over. In the case of the Circular Garden, everything that we create will later be used as fertiliser: everything that came from the land, such as the mycelium, will return to the land at the end of the exhibition. We want to offer a new perspective on the circular processes of transformation and reuse.

There is a lot of emphasis on technology and what it can do to help the circular economy. If you were to stage the same exhibition in the botanical garden in 2050, what do you think it would look like?

I imagine that we would still be using mycelium but with one major difference. This time we had to give a form to the structures ourselves, but in the future, we will have successfully reprogrammed the DNA of this organic material so that the mycelium itself creates a specific architecture to meet our needs.

There is a lot of emphasis on technology and what it can do to help the circular economy. If you were to stage the same exhibition in the botanical garden in 2050, what do you think it would look like?

I imagine that we would still be using mycelium but with one major difference. This time we had to give a form to the structures ourselves, but in the future we will have successfully reprogrammed the DNA of this organic material so that the mycelium itself creates a specific architecture to meet our needs.

From the Orto Botanico of Brera, ideas come to life and transform themselves…

 

Cover image by Marco Beck Peccoz

The Circular Garden – Fuorisalone 2019 photo gallery (by Marco Beck Peccoz)

READ MORE: The secret of mushrooms at Fuorisalone by Eniday staff

about the author
Paola Arpino
Traveling with myself, through Rome, London and Milan, dreaming that one day I could be writing....