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Great Outdoors

Exhibit Showcases Potential Of Untapped Energy

Marco Beck Peccoz

Milan Design Week Playground Powered By Renewable Sources

Imagine a boisterous, brightly colored playground where kids run off steam to the enthusiasm of their exhausted parents. It begs the question, or at least in some innovative minds, what if we could harness the energy kids expend at the playground? A project between Italian design firm Carlo Ratti Associati and Italian architect Italo Rota did precisely that.

In a temporary installation this summer for Design Week in Milan, Italy, the two developed a self-sufficient playground powered by various types of renewable energy. The project, called “Feeling the Energy,” was set in the botanical garden in the center of the city. It featured more than 500 meters of copper tubing that ran the entire installation, supporting the six renewable energy sculptures outfitted across the “energy park.” They were called Energy Carousel, Garden Orchestra, The Leading Logo, Powering Vibrations, Blinds in the Sun, and Solar Garden.

Photo Courtesy carloratti/Marco Beck Peccoz

Each part of the installation used some form of renewable energy, including a few unconventional sources, such as a spinning carousel that transforms the mechanical energy into electricity and an oversized vibraphone that converts the vibrations into electricity.

Carlo Ratti, the founding partner of Carlo Ratti Associati and director of MIT’s Senseable City Lab, commented on the unconventional energy source in playing music. “From a more conceptual point of view, you can experience music and sound vibrations (those produced when you play a vibraphone) as other, unexpected ways to ‘feel the energy’,” he said.

Each of these different forms of electricity was used as a source of electricity around the grounds. Electricity from the sculptures powered everything from the lights, the water pumped through the copper tubing, and the sensors that activated the water vaporizers to cool and water the plants in the garden.

Photo Courtesy carloratti/Marco Beck Peccoz

Ratti described the installation as being inspired by the way plants function. “As trees in a forest draw energy from different sources and then use it locally where they need it — in a certain branch or the end of a leaf — the long copper tube of ‘Feeling the Energy’ absorbs energy in its entire length and then uses it in specific points of the installation path.”

The intent behind the installation was to show how much-untapped energy could be found in everyday tasks, ranging from exercise to self-expression. “I can see the separate components make their way into different aspects of the daily life,” Ratti said. “After all, countless people ride bikes, play music, and engage in other activities that enable us to produce energy every day, so there is really no limit to the possibilities!”

While the “Feel the Energy” exhibition was only at the Milan botanical garden through June 19, it should be seen as an example of using untapped energy sources to create a more self-sufficient and circular system. “The Orto Botanico can be considered as a small ‘living lab,’” Ratti said. “It showcases a miniature model of a self-sufficient energy system, inviting visitors to discover the functioning of this system as well as to improve its efficiency. In this sense, it connects each of us with the design of energy grid systems.” 

Photo Courtesy carloratti/Marco Beck Peccoz
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