Can planting a tree change your life? Decidedly. Even more so when this is over 10 meters high and is located in the center of the living room, inside a space designed and built specifically for his and your well-being. Meeting Alma in India, a wonderful specimen of Ficus (non-religious) born 50 years ago, has meant precisely this for Francesco Mutti, since 1994 at the helm of Mutti SpA, a company that produces tomatoes, purées and canned foods of the highest level, known in all over the world: the writing of a new story that brings back to the center the love for the absolute beauty of nature as a synonym of genuineness, goodness of the products of the earth, variety and richness of its artifacts.
Thus Francesco Mutti led Alma, with his demanding root system, to overwinter-acclimatize in Alicante, and then make it the pivot around which his new house-greenhouse revolves in Montechiarugolo, in the province of Parma, a place that has responded since 1899 on the map to the address of the company Mutti. The entrepreneur was supported by Carlo Ratti and Italo Rota, the designers of the Italian Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, to visualize and create the first piece of a more complex mosaic of wellness that explores the concept of factory-landscape, on and off the field. campo, on that flat pre-Apennine territory familiar to him.
“Alma represents for me the idea of a home in which I feel very comfortable, a place that combines extreme simplicity, a strong naturalness and a beautiful balance between my roots and what I would like to project into the future”, he explains. “Ideally it reflects the roots of the company which is located about a hundred meters away, integrated and not separated from the house. They are two dimensions that live an empathic relationship of reciprocity, in the green of the park and in the sharing of its animated presences. Here everyone knows Piero, my stubborn donkey, and my beloved dogs who have been given a specially designed room inside the house. There are also cats and other animals in the perimeter of a traditional countryside that has evolved into an interpretation of extreme refinement, thanks to the landscape project by Paolo Pejrone. I recognize that the greatest pleasure that this project gives me every day in a different way is that of a complete immersion in nature. Inside and outside the home. In the greenhouse where the ficus is located, for example, which is lowered by 60-70 cm from the zero level, there is a long table from which I visually perceive the lawn at eye level, beyond the window ”.
As if to say: the countryside is the raw material not only of what is produced in the factory, but it is also the material of choice for a personal contemplative-meditative approach to the 'garden of the spirit' and to biophilia. “In essence, this new house remains an identification of the place where I spent most of my life” continues Francesco Mutti. “The bucolic one where as a child I climbed on forts made of wooden boxes that were used for the tomato harvest and the present-future one of the company dotted with a series of places for a shared well-being. I am thinking of the high quality restaurant / canteen that will be open to our population but also to outsiders and to a series of interventions that we are carrying out with a view to regeneration and integration that better connotes the genius-loci. As a model in which people, the territory and the supply chain live in harmony with our business ".
Going back to the ficus - symbol in oriental cultures of welcome, gratitude and respect, a bridge between heaven and earth, Yin and Yang - from him the centripetal development of the whole factory-landscape started: a puzzle made up of many others pieces where each presence finds symbiotic relationships. So while the figure of the restaurant-canteen also open to the public, under construction in front of the house, begins to peek out into the green of the park "it will be a clod of earth dug and raised on the roof, which will allow a particular déjeuner sur l'herbe inside a glass volume ", explain the architects Carlo Ratti and Italo Rota, the historical layout of the already renovated farmhouse, a sum of different buildings around the classic rural courtyard, is redefining its boundaries in the perimeter of the enclosure wall finished in raw earth, which hides the entrance flush a little to James Bond.
“We asked ourselves how to bring the countryside that is the center of Francesco Mutti's professional and personal life into the house,” says Carlo Ratti. “The first conceptual reference model was Frank Lloyd Wright's Cascade House project which thrives on architectural misalignment solutions. However, in the end, we turned to a more radical choice: to make nature itself an element of construction, respecting its rhythms. Around Alma we have developed a sort of reinterpreted Raumplan, different from the one theorized by Adolf Loos which centered on empty space, sculpted in negative. Ours relates to nature and to the scale that makes it available everywhere: seven games of interconnected odds around the ficus allow us to dialogue with this living presence from above, below, from the center and from different perspectives, they dynamize the perception of an ever-evolving space. Each room is located on a different level of the tree and each staggered mezzanine accommodates a living function, music, conviviality, lunch, meditation, reading, rest, and so on. If we think about it, specimens of Ficus were already part of the great nineteenth-century British greenhouses. But thanks to the technologies developed in the last hundred years we have been able to find new relationships between natural and artificial ".
Does the past become present and take shape in experiments on the future? "Of course. The project has become an opportunity to mediate that separation between Natural and Artificial typical of the Anthropocene era, restoring the relationship between these two paradigms in a dimension of interpenetration and hybridization ”, continues Italo Rota. “In a dynamic process, the house and the tree have acclimatized to each other. On the one hand, nature has become malleable like a building material, on the other the sensors that analyze the lymphatic cycle of the plant, indicating the amount of water necessary for its well-being, together with the other highly sophisticated technologies adopted, from geothermal systems to systems control of the humidity of the air, of the light, of the ventilation that passes through the automatic opening / closing of the glass perimeter walls and of the skylights, develop a symbiotic reaction, almost atmospheric, with the envelope ".
A speculative design has supported this approach also in the choice of furnishings. All essential, purist, almost monastic in sobriety, correspond to personal choices of the client carefully calibrated with the architects. The very long table in the living room, next to Alma, takes up the idea of a fossil ficus, for example. In the master bathroom, three large hollowed pebbles, two for the sinks and one for the bathtub, made from a block of stone from a nearby quarry, invite you to experience a natural landscape of water which instead becomes that of fire in relation to the stone almost three meters long that defines the base of the fireplace in another room. They are other fragments of an Amarcord, awaiting new developments.
Foto courtesy Delfino Sisto Legnani, Alessandro Saletta