Carlo Ratti from CRA
1) What is the "mission" of an architect?
I do not think that the role of an architect today is that different compared to 1000 or 2000 years ago. Now, as then, designing architecture means thinking about the interface between people and the outside world. What is changing very quickly, however, is the very nature of this interface. Since man was living in caves they have been made of rock; for thousands of years they have been made of physical matter, atoms more or less designed. Today, for the first time, there is a new hybrid material, at the border between physical and digital worlds, between bits and atoms. This is why the role of the architect is changing radically, and today requires new multidisciplinary approaches as well as the ability to listen to and harmonize many voices. I believe in participatory dynamics, which is what we talk about in our latest book "Open Source Architecture" (Einaudi).
2) You have already had experience in the previous Expo, in Zaragoza (Spain). How is this compared to your experience of participating in the Milano Expo?
For Expo Zaragoza we designed the Digital Water Pavilion, a flexible structure, an info-point with walls made from liquid, which are able to change shape and function as needed. For Expo 2015 instead we had to work with a given space, one already built - a theme pavilion for which we have designed the interior and contents. Therefore, there is a very different approach required. The idea was to transform the pavilion into a living laboratory, where visitors can interact with products. It is actually a supermarket, designed with COOP, where you can have a real shopping experience testing first-hand how new technologies can make the food chain more transparent. We started with the idea that the products could talk about themselves, thanks to new networked technologies. Through a system of advanced labels and interactive tables, simply touching them we can find out about their history, their origins and their properties. An image that I have always liked is that of Calvino's Mr. Palomar who, immersed in a Parisian fromagerie, had the impression of being in a museum: "This shop is a museum: visiting it Mr. Palomar feels, like in the Louvre, that behind each exhibit is the presence of the civilization which gave it its shape and the form that it takes." In particular, we thought of this supermarket of the future as a traditional market, a place of exchange between consumers and producers. We eliminated the vertical barriers and created a sort of free zone in which to test new interactions amongst people and between people and products. In the future, the idea is that users can even become sellers, as is happening online with peer-to-peer interactions.
3) Your projects are characterized by continuous research. In which field do you feel best situated and/or more intrigued?
Actually for us research and technology is only a means, never an end. The goal is to continue to explore the interface between us and the outside world that we were talking about before, designing new ways of experiencing the world.
4) What can’t you live without in an architectural office?
Balloons, games, swings, lego and other pastimes - because architecture must first rediscover homo ludens (as stated by Constant) that is in each of us...
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