Carlo Ratti Associati reimagines University of Milan’s new Science Campus in brick

Designed with Australian real estate group Lendlease for an international competition, the design by CRA explores how a historical institution is transformed for the digital age.

by Anmol AhujaPublished on : Dec 21, 2020

Situated in the MIND-Milano Innovation District, a one million sqm innovation park and the site for 2015 World Expo, the new Science Campus for the historical University of Milan has its masterplan and design developed by CRA in collaboration with Lendlease. The now commissioned project, due for realisation and opening in 2025, was a winning entry for a competition held to invite designs for the campus. The new design finds its roots in tradition, yet is a state-of-the-art mega campus housing all technical facilities fit for a science institution operating in an overwhelming digital age. The campus itself will extend over 190,000 sqm, serving approximately 23,000 researchers and students of natural and formal sciences at the UNIMI.

  • Bird’s eye view of the UNIMI Campus showcasing the five new building blocks in brick | Carlo Ratti Associati | STIRworld
    Bird’s eye view of the UNIMI Campus showcasing the five new building blocks in brick Image: Courtesy of Carlo Ratti Associati
  • Entrance to the UNIMI Science Campus | Carlo Ratti Associati | STIRworld
    Entrance to the UNIMI Science Campus Image: Courtesy of Carlo Ratti Associati

The design for the expansive campus, developed in collaboration with architect Italo Rota, comprises five brick buildings constructed around a network of interconnected green courtyards, and a series of uninterrupted walking paths, termed “common grounds”, situated at two different heights throughout the campus. The centre of this development is a large public square located adjacent to a lake, reflecting a clear impetus on communal, public and pedestrian friendly spaces. Akin to a new order emerging from the old, the new buildings in the ‘Campus 2.0’ are inspired from and pay tribute to the Ca’ Granda, the iconic 15th century brick building designed by the Renaissance architect Filarete. Today, the Ca’ Granda is host to the central seat of the University of Milan.

“Carugio”, translating to tight streets among houses. The walkways between blocks have been envisioned as such | Carlo Ratti Associati | STIRworld
“Carugio”, translating to tight streets among houses. The walkways between blocks have been envisioned as such Image: Courtesy of Carlo Ratti Associati

The new campus is, in a way, a reinterpretation of Filarete’s design principles, albeit with 21st century digital technologies and new approaches to teaching and learning. A particularly interesting aspect of the design, and testament to both CRA’s and the new campus’ leanings towards a reflection of the digital age, is the façade borne by it. Designed completely in brick, each of the facades’ bricks have been envisioned to be individually positioned by a robotic arm, treated as a pixel within a large scale bas-relief resulting in the creation of three-dimensional tapestry with textual and visual content: each façade telling a story. The overall topological features in the masterplan: the courtyards and the “common ground”, an interconnected series of pedestrian-traversable paths, were also inspired by Ca’ Granda, closely reflecting Filarete’s vision for his utopian city, the eight pointed star-shaped Sforzinda. 

“The courtyards around which the buildings are centred are each designed to showcase different landscapes from Northern Italy | Carlo Ratti Associati | STIRworld
The courtyards around which the buildings are centred are each designed to showcase different landscapes from Northern Italy Image: Courtesy of Carlo Ratti Associati

The undulating pathways that are constituent of the “common ground”, a name that embodies at a basal level the democratic nature of student centred public access space, wind their way through the campus, connecting the buildings and courtyards to the outsides through a meandering spine. The paths are embellished with porticos and canopies over a combined length of more than 1,200 meters. The path continues inside the buildings, with an additional 800 meters of accessible walkways at the mezzanine level. Apart from internal connections within the campus, the “Common Ground” also seeks to reinforce the connection between the campus and the surrounding MIND neighbourhood, encouraging interaction between the academics from the university and the companies and R&D centres operating in the expansive innovation district. With over 100,000 sqm of greens including terraces and hypogeum gardens located below the ground level, the campus’ landscape design too pushes on the belief of enhanced productivity through improved access to natural elements in the outdoors. Each of the five courtyards showcases a different landscape from Northern Italy, while the central square alongside the lake has been designed to accommodate larger events.

Interior visualisation of a classroom/ lecture hall | Carlo Ratti Associati | STIRworld
Interior visualisation of a classroom/ lecture hall Image: Courtesy of Carlo Ratti Associati

“Recent data analyses of human interaction on academic campuses have shown that there is a direct correlation between the physical proximity of researchers and scientific output,” states Carlo Ratti, founding partner of CRA, on his approach toward design the all new Science Campus for UNIMI. “Human interaction is an essential component of the discovery process. The recent pandemic, which forced scholars to live and work for months on end in isolation, only reinforced the importance of physical space. Our ‘Campus 2.0’ design elaborates on Filarete’s thinking from almost 500 years ago to create a testing ground that will promote interaction among diverse communities”.

Project Details

Name: University of Milan, Science Campus
Architectural concept: CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati
Creative Consultancy: Italo Rota
CRA Team: Carlo Ratti, Andrea Cassi (Project Manager), Saverio Panata, Matteo Zerbi, Chiara Morandini, Anna Morani, Nicola Scaramuzza, Mario Daudo, Jacopo Reale, Oliver Kazmir, Alessandro Tassinari, Samuel Colle Dominguez, Federico Riches, Andrea Giordano

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