a greenhouse house built around a tree

Natural and Artificial meet around a 10 meter high Ficus, in the greenhouse house of the entrepreneur Francesco Mutti in the Parma countryside

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 especially for her and your well-being. Meeting Alma in India , a wonderful fifty-year-old specimen of Ficus (non-religious), a symbol in Eastern cultures of welcome, gratitude and respect, a bridge between heaven and earth, Yin and Yang, meant precisely this for Francesco Mutti , from 1994 to guide of Mutti Spa , a company known all over the world: the writing of a new story that brings back to the center the love for the absolute beauty of natureas a synonym of authenticity, 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 and acclimatize in Alicante , to 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.

View of the house-greenhouse from the phytodepuration area of ​​the lake water, part of the landscape designed by Paolo Pejrone. Realization: Arcadia Vivai Impianti. Biolago: Umoracqueo. Note the triangular shape of the raised roof that denounces the mutation of the original body. The two main slats of the complex face each other around the classical courtyard. One houses the housing volumes, the other those of the offices; their ideal trait d’union is represented by the portico of the former granary made habitable also on the roof and ‘dressed’ in a cloud of green harnessed in the corten.

The entrepreneur was supported by Carlo Ratti and Italo Rota , the designers of the Italian Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai (together with Matteo Gatto and F&M Ingegneria ), to create the first piece of a more complex mosaic of wellness that explores the concept of factory-landscape , field and off-screen, on that pre-Apennine flat land that is familiar to him. “Alma represents for me the idea of ​​a home where I feel very comfortable, a place that combines extreme simplicity, strong naturalness and a beautiful balancebetween my roots and what I would like to project into the future ”, he explains.

The Kauri table is a fossil wooden top by Riva 1920 which makes the outdoor lawn visible at eye level. Viabizzuno lights. Serramenti by Secco Sistemi and carpentry by Mario Bertero. Resin flooring by Mapei.

“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. 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 tree is located, for example, which is lowered by 60-70 centimeters from level zero, there is a long table from which I can see the lawn at eye level, beyond the window ”.

The connecting staircase between two parts of the house; Artemide lighting.

As if to say: the countryside is not only the raw material of what is produced and worked in the factory , but it is also the material of choice for a personal contemplative-meditative approach to the ‘ garden of the spirit’ and 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 think of the canteen restaurantof great quality 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 integrated regeneration that better connotes the genius loci . As a model in which people, the territory and the supply chain live in harmony with our business “.

View of the main bathroom on design. Boffi bathtub, Fantini taps, custom washbasin made by Marmor, light by Davide Groppi.

So while the architecture 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 for a particular déjeuner sur l’herbe inside a glass volume, a matrix of poor art “, explain the architects Carlo Ratti and Italo Rota – the Greenary House has given way to the centripetal development of the entire factory-landscape and to the redefinition of the historic farmhouse, a sum of different bodies around the classic rural courtyard.

Essential custom-made bookcases in iron and wood designed to contain special formats solve the space dedicated to the study, equipped with Viabizzuno lights.

“We asked ourselves how to bring the countryside, which 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 Waterfall House , 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 thus developed a sort of Raumplan , but different from the one theorized in the principles by Adolf Loos, which centered the empty space, sculpted in negative. Ours relates to nature and to the scale that makes it available everywhere. The games of seven interconnected heights around the Ficus (four below the zero level and three above) allow in fact to dialogue with this living presence from above, from below, from the center and from different perspectives, in the perception of a space always in become. Each room is located on a different level of the tree and each staggered mezzanine accommodates a living function: music , conviviality , lunch , meditation , reading , restand 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 “.

The Japanese-inspired master bedroom. All designed by CRA and Italo Rota made by Falegnameria Francia.

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, sensors that analyze the plant’s lymphatic cycle indicate the amount of waternecessary for his well-being. And together with the other highly sophisticated technologies adopted – from geothermal systems to air humidity control systems, the light coming from the ten-meter-high south-facing glass wall, the ventilation that passes through the automatic opening / closing of the perimeter windows and skylights – develop a symbiotic, almost atmospheric reaction of the tree with the shell ”.

The volume once used as a granary has been rebuilt and converted to accommodate Francesco Mutti’s daily professional activity.

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 excavated pebbles, two for the sinks and one for the tub , made from a block of stone from a nearby quarry, invite you to experience a natural landscape of water, which instead becomes a landscapeof the fire through the nearly three meter long stone that defines the base of the fireplace in another room. They are other fragments of an Amarcord , waiting for new developments.

In the former granary, you can see the suspended staircase in corten steel, designed by the designers, and the elastic net that creates an island of personal relaxation on the mezzanine.

Project Carlo Ratti – Carlo Ratti Associati / Italo Rota – Italo Rota Building Office / Photo courtesy Delfino Sisto Legnani and Alessandro Saletta