Italian architects Carlo Ratti and Italo Rota, who have previously converted shipping containers to self-standing hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients, teamed up again to revamp the historic palazzo of Porta Venezia in Milan, to create a centre for digital arts, culture, and technology. Titled MEET, the space reveals its heart in the form of an orange staircase inserted in a 15-meter-high central stairwell, creating a vertical plaza.
Ratti together with Rota has remodelled the 20th century palace, earlier renovated by Italian architect Gae Aulenti in the late 1990s. Their intervention extends over 1500 sqm space spread over three storeys for the MEET venue.
As the focal point for the centre’s daily activities and events, the vertical plaza is designed to host theatre and workshop activities as well as meetings and public debates. Comprising a bright orange staircase that crisscrosses through the stairwell, people’s interactions are intended to take place on its asymmetric landings, which are further made dynamic through a system of multimedia projections embedded in the surface.
MEET investigates the meaning of physical space in an increasingly digitised world. As per Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA), the Turin-based studio founded by Carlo Ratti, it argues that architecture should foster unexpected encounters between people, especially those that are missing in the digital realm.
“These spaces can be used for talks, installations, art performances. Most importantly, they encourage chance encounters as people navigate through the building,” says CRA.
The architects have manifested the concept of hybridization of functions, that is, the possibility for any space to simultaneously host different activities across various spaces in the building. Beyond the stairs, which is the centre’s core attraction, elsewhere there is a reconfigurable auditorium and movie theatre, a café, and an immersive hall for digital installations as the backdrop for talks, installations, and performances.
An array of advanced projection systems and screens are made part of the functioning of these spaces, thus marrying the physical with the digital. The idea, as per the architects, was to allow people the access to the center’s digital archive in unexpected ways.
“What is the role of physical space in a digital world? Today, we continue to live and work in pandemic-induced isolation where almost anything can be done online. At this time, it is vital to use architecture to produce serendipitous moments and help foster new connections – precisely those that rarely happen on the web,” probes Ratti.
“One way to achieve this objective is to overcome any strict division of spatial functions. When every place can serve multiple purposes, it brings together multiple communities, facilitating the generation and circulation of new ideas”.
In our collective pandemic-state of consciousness, and considering the ‘digital’ has merged in the background of our lives permeating its passing moment, MEET nurtures the sacred realm of the physical in a simple, yet thought-provoking architectural expression.
The space opened to the public on October 31, 2020.
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