A PRIVATE HOME IN THE PARMA COUNTRYSIDE FOR LIVING IN SYMBIOSIS WITH NATURE
The Greenary is a private home in Montechiarugolo, a country town near Parma, designed and built by CRA – Carlo Ratti Associati in collaboration with Italo Rota. Beginning with the restoration of an old farmhouse, the project is designed around a 32-foot Port Jackson fig (nicknamed Alma), which can be seen from the surrounding garden through a full-height window.
As architect Carlo Scarpa once famously said, “Between a tree and a house, choose the tree.” With this house, however, the architects have chosen both, creating a union between the natural and built worlds. Carlo Ratti and Italo Rota designed this project around the life and rhythms of nature and the surrounding landscape, incorporating a 60-year-old Port Jackson fig into the interior of the home. A private residence designed and built in the Parma countryside by the two architecture firms, its name, the Greenary, combines greenery and granary, reflecting many of the architectural features of the home. The project began with the restoration and redesign of an old farmhouse around the tree. Named Alma (Latin for soul), this 60-year-old giant stands over 30 feet in height. It symbolizes the idea of the human soul as the point of origin of our thoughts, feelings, free will, and moral conscience.
This hints at the biophilic principles underlying the entire project – that is, the philosophy developed by sociobiologist and Harvard professor Edward Osborne Wilson, according to which humans have an innate desire to live with an emotional connection and in symbiosis with other living things.
The place where this idea is most fully played out is the living areas of a home. And the ficus tree is located in the Greenary’s large living area, which is also furnished with natural materials, such as a long wooden table and benches, and overlooks the garden. To provide adequate natural light for the tree, the entire wall facing the garden was rebuilt with a massive floor-to-ceiling window. The architects worked on the entire structure of the old farmhouse to create the best conditions for both the tree and the human occupants. And to ensure that those conditions remain stable throughout the year, the home has technologies to control temperature and humidity. Also, the windows and roof open and close automatically, while honeycomb bond brick walls have been used.
The tree isn’t the only feature of his part of the home, but it does represent a point of reference within the complexity of its different levels, always visually present between the balusters of the Corten steel staircase. The levels of the house aren’t arranged traditionally but are based on the concept of Raumplan, developed by Adolf Loos, according to which freedom of thought can lead to the creation of spaces with different dimensions, levels, and heights, according to their function. This is reflected, for example, in the descent of about three feet to reach the living area and contributes to a more intense feeling of connection with the immensity of the great outdoors.
Nature is invited into the home in many different ways, including earth and orange peel incorporated into the floors. The property itself is large, covering over 12 acres. Besides the home, the property has a workspace created in an old barn. A celebration of the biodiversity of the region, the extensive garden was designed by landscape architect Paolo Pejrone.
Location: Montechiarugolo, Parma
Architects: CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati e Italo Rota
Gross Floor Area: 270 m2
Client: Francesco Mutti
Structures: AI Studio (with Luca Giacosa), Corrado Curti
Facade and MEP: AI Studio
Agronomy: Flavio Pollano, Paolo Battistel (Ceres srl)
Authority approval, accouting, health & safety lead: Aldo Trombi
Planning and works supervisor: AU Studio
Landscape design: Paolo Pejrone with Alberto Fusari
Construction: AeC costruzioni
Garden Cultivation: Arcadia Vivai Impianti
Doors and windows: Secco Sistemi
Photography by Delfino Sisto Legnani and Alessandro Saletta - DSL Studio, courtesy of Carlo Ratti Associati