Following the renovation and expansion of a historic farmhouse in Parma, Italy, its residents now dine beneath the leafy boughs of a towering indoor tree.
Rising almost three stories, the 33-foot-tall ficus sends a burst of green over the open-plan living, dining, and kitchen areas of the 5,400-square-foot house, owned by Francesco Mutti, CEO of international tomato sauce brand Mutti, and his family.
“The client has a number of animals and is deeply engaged with the countryside,” explains Carlo Ratti, founding partner of Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA), who conceived a design driven by biophilia in collaboration with Italian architect Italo Rota.
The tree, called Alma (“soul” in Spanish) by the client, grows from a rectangular bed of grass at the center of a sun-dappled wing, where weathered steel that Ratti selected for its “aged finish that evokes the farmhouse’s history” drops down the retouched and repainted brick-and-plaster facade. To better accommodate the tree, the design team specified a new metal roof, seven feet higher than the rest of the building’s volume, lavished with six skylights.
By the tree’s base is a 40-foot-long table of fossilized kauri pine. Paired with hand-carved cedar stools and pushed against a new glass wall on the building’s southern flank, it’s at the same elevation as the surrounding meadow. Meaning an evening’s aperitivo spread might be exactly eye level with a curious Piero, the resident donkey.
The gutted and newly reconfigured interior’s seven interconnected rooms are in direct dialogue with the tree, with perforated glass and brick walls and weathered steel rods providing subtle spatial division without blocking light. Resin flooring embedded with soil and orange peels—a technique Ratti developed for the Italy Pavilion at Dubai’s recent World Expo—expands the natural feeling. “This was a little bit of experimentation with a new type of organic resin we developed thinking about locally sourced, zero-distance architecture,” Ratti explains. Following Spain, Italy is Europe’s second-largest orange producer.