- François-Xavier Branthôme
Italian leading food company Mutti has decided to install its future headquarters near Parma, and the international design firm Carlo Ratti has won the international competition to design the building. The master plan aims to open up the factory to the public, and features a new visitor center whose walls are made up of tomato-sauce glass jars. On the top of this building, a public terrace allows visitors to overlook thousands of fresh tomatoes – 300,000 metric tonnes each year, up to 5,500 mT per day – being processed in real time.
The 2.5 million square-foot (250,000 square-meter) master plan designed by Carlo Ratti overhauls a series of production facilities, at the same time setting up improved environments for workers, employees and visitors alike. The project rethinks the factory’s relationship with the surrounding landscape, aiming to become a destination in Montechiarugolo, near Parma, at the core of Italy’s ‘food valley’. the factory projects outwards into the countryside, through a couple of 400ft long (120m long), 23ft high (7 m high) semi-transparent walls, each of them built with thousands of tomato-sauce glass jars.
This structure, marked by the Mutti logo and digitally lit at night, will become the factory’s most recognizable element. The enclosed visitor center will host a series of public functions, and will feature a restaurant surrounded by an orchard, an auditorium for events, and a control room where people can follow the food processing stages as they happen in the factory in real time.
On the top of the visitor center, people can access a public terrace, from which they can view the first stage of food processing. Freshly harvested vegetables are poured down in tons into the wash basins, allowing visitors to admire the sight of millions of tomatoes falling down in an endless ‘red cascade’.
“We were inspired by Pablo Neruda’s poem ‘Oda al tomate’, which is also one of Mutti’s slogans. “La calle se llenó de tomates” (“the street was filled with tomatoes”) is a way to show how the factory can open up and project outwards”, explains Carlo Ratti, founding partner of CRA and director of the senseable city lab at MIT. “We imagined the Mutti plant to be like an open-air theatre: both open to the public, and to the surrounding landscape.”
Landscape has also been at the core of the master plan. At the renovated factory, the landscape enters inside the industrial plant. A new 240,000 sqf (24,000 sqm) biodiversity park will be established to surround the entire area, blurring the boundary between nature and industry. Furthermore, the project by CRA imagines new spaces for work, including office spaces immersed in a lemon house. ‘Our company is located in the very heart of the food valley and has a strong relationship with its territory, which we love and respect’, adds Francesco Mutti, CEO of Mutti S.p.a. and president of the competition’s jury. ‘That’s why our ambition is to create a model in which both the individuals, the territory and the supply chain live in harmony with our business.’