For Expo 2030 Roma, Carlo Ratti Associati imagines “world’s largest urban solar farm”

Developed by CRA, Italo Rotta, and Richard Burdett, Rome’s bid for Expo 2030 provides a blueprint for temporary events to transform as a model for sustainable urban development.

by Jincy IypePublished on : Jan 19, 2023

Will renewable energy-sharing successfully combat climate change and usher in a cleaner, more sustainable future for urban cities?

Four countries have submitted competing candidatures to organise and host the World Expo 2030—the Republic of Korea (Busan), Italy (Rome), Ukraine (Odesa), and Saudi Arabia (Riyadh). Reigning in the power of the sun, Turin-based Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA) together with architect Italo Rota and urbanist Richard Burdett have unveiled their proposed masterplan for Rome’s bid to host the World Expo in 2030 with the ‘Expo Solar Park’, touted to become the ‘world’s largest urban solar farm’ if realised. The envisioned masterplan in Rome explores the concept of ‘energy-sharing’ powered by solar energy. “The project uses renewable energy as the basis for a 21st-century urban commons, with every country contributing to a solar farm that would power the exhibition site and decarbonise the surrounding neighbourhoods,” says CRA.

Italian architect Carlo Ratti together with architect Italo Rota and urbanist Richard Burdett unveil their proposal for Rome's bid for World Expo 2030| CRA for Expo 2030 Roma | STIRworld
Italian architect Carlo Ratti together with architect Italo Rota and urbanist Richard Burdett unveil their proposal for Rome's bid for World Expo 2030 Image: Courtesy of CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati

If chosen, Expo 2030 Roma will take place in Tor Vergata, a substantial area in the municipality of Rome, and home to the eponymous university—one of the leading academic hubs in Italy—as well as a densely inhabited residential district. Carlo Ratti Associati tells STIR that this “neighbourhood has gone through a phase of neglect in recent decades. The master plan aims to reverse that process through sustainable, long-term development. The master plan was developed with several partners, including ARUP for sustainability, infrastructure, and costing, LAND for landscape design, and Systematica for mobility strategy.”

As a nod to sustainable architecture, once the 2030 World Expo culminates, all the event pavilions in the district, including the revamped ‘Vele’ complex designed by architect Santiago Calatrava are planned to be fully reused, upcycled and repurposed to house other functions, “giving shape to a new innovation district in the Italian capital,” they add.

“We conceived this project like a feasible utopia—one that aims to be a catalyst for new projects and ideas. The main driver behind this goal is to let natural ecosystems and technological inventions work in sync, just like human and natural energy would make each other more intense. This new approach to temporary events could become the foundation of a new model for urban development,” believes Italian architect Italo Rota.

If selected, the ‘Expo Solar Park’ promises to become the ‘world’s largest urban solar farm’, exploring the concept of ‘energy-sharing’ to power the Expo site | CRA for Expo 2030 Roma | STIRworld
If selected, the ‘Expo Solar Park’ promises to become the ‘world’s largest urban solar farm’, exploring the concept of ‘energy-sharing’ to power the Expo site Image: Courtesy of CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati

“Expo 2030 Roma aims to break new ground for World’s Fairs and other large-scale events,” says Carlo Ratti, a professor at MIT, founding partner of CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati and director of the MIT Senseable City Lab. Among his various roles, he represents a leading figure in the relationship between architecture and technology, innovation and sustainability. “Our master plan experiments with collective city-making processes, new energy-sharing strategies, and inclusive urban transformations that go well beyond the temporal and spatial confines of the event,” adds Ratti, Creative Advisor for the strategic vision of Expo 2030 Rome.

We live on an urban planet and rethinking how we use energy in cities is fundamental to counter climate change. In Rome, the Urban Farm system aims to generate enough power to fuel the entire Expo, making it fully energy self-sufficient. – Carlo Ratti Associati

The vision for the Expo Solar Park aims to guarantee that the event will not only strengthen the neighbourhood but help ‘decarbonise’ it. According to CRA, “the solar farm in Rome covers an area of 150,000 square meters and boasts a production capacity of 36 megawatt-peak, making it the largest urban, publicly accessible solar farm in the world.”

Hundreds of ‘energy trees’ will make up the Expo Solar Park, harvesting solar energy and offering visitors shade in the open complex | CRA for Expo 2030 Roma | STIRworld
Hundreds of ‘energy trees’ will make up the Expo Solar Park, harvesting solar energy and offering visitors shade in the open complex Image: Courtesy of CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati

Hundreds of unique ‘energy trees’ that open and close their panels throughout the day will make up the Expo Solar Park, harvesting solar energy in tandem with offering visitors shade in the open complex. From above, this infrastructure of sustainable design will provide the entire site with a captivating, ‘mosaic’ aesthetic. “This complex energy grid is complemented by the ‘Eco-system 0.0’ pavilion, the tallest building of the Expo, which provides cooling through evaporation,” they elaborate.

“Energy trees are the primary component of the Solar Farm. Each of them is topped with a few solar panels to harvest energy. Moreover, the panels can open and close automatically to moderate the amount of sunlight that enters the Expo site, control the temperature there and provide shade to the visitors. Seen from above, the open energy trees look almost like pieces of tiles, giving the project its characteristic mosaic look,” the CRA design team explained to STIR.

The proposed masterplan will divide the Expo 2030 Roma site into three main zones—the City, the Boulevard, and the Park, in a west-to-east layout “between the artificial world and the natural world that must exist in harmony if we are to be successful at combating climate change,” reveals CRA. This layout is defined by the imperceptible transition from an urban design led built site, to a more natural one, as one move from west to east.

The proposed masterplan will divide the Expo 2030 Roma site into three main zones—the City, the Boulevard, and the Park | CRA for Expo 2030 Roma | STIRworld
The proposed masterplan will divide the Expo 2030 Roma site into three main zones—the City, the Boulevard, and the Park Image: Courtesy of CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati

The City residing in the west will function as the Expo Village, becoming an extension of the University of Tor Vergata’s campus after the event. The central pedestrian axis, a pathway through all the national pavilions will be assigned as the Boulevard. Lastly, the Park situated in the east will be covered in verdant vegetation and accentuated by thematic structures, including the ‘Pale Blue Dot’, a pavilion dedicated to disseminating knowledge about the natural world, presumably inspired by Carl Sagan’s coveted book with the same title.

CRA shares with STIR that the sustainable master plan was specifically developed by a multi-disciplinary team. “The two people who worked most closely with CRA are architect Italo Rota, with whom we co-designed Italy’s national pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, and urbanist Richard Burdett, one of the foremost experts on cities internationally. We have known him for a long time. We have collaborated before on exhibitions such as ‘Real Time Rome’ to track the telecommunication dynamics in Rome at the Venice Biennale 2006 (where he was curator), and on publications like the latest volume of his insightful ‘Urban Age’ book series.”

Not only will some of the local structures, including Santiago Calatrava’s gigantic disused sports complex be renewed, but all the pavilions are planned to be reused once the Expo ends | CRA for Expo 2030 Roma | STIRworld
Not only will some of the local structures, including Santiago Calatrava’s gigantic disused sports complex be renewed, but all the pavilions are planned to be reused once the Expo ends Image: Courtesy of CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati

Expo 2030 Roma’s commitment to neighbourhood revitalisation will get further augmented by the repurposing of a massive sports complex locally known as ‘Le Vele’, designed by revered Spanish architect, structural engineer, sculptor, and painter, Santiago Calatrava. Abandoned for 15 years, the building is set to transform into one of the flagship pavilions of the Expo, hosting public events and showcasing the transformation of Tor Vergata. The main entrance next to it will serve as the primary access point with a set of new transportation and mobility connections. Among them, a long green corridor links the Expo 2030 Roma to the adjacent archaeological sites on the Appian Way and Rome’s other famous historical buildings and monuments.

“The core concept of Rome’s candidacy to Expo 2030, under the direction of Ambassador Giampiero Massolo, is ‘People and Territories, Together: Urban Regeneration, Inclusion and Innovation’ —and we would say that the keyword for the (drawing board) design project is ‘Together’. Individuals and cultures from different corners of the world will all come to Rome, taking part in a worldwide discussion on the urban future. Moreover, the Exposition will aim to catalyse a process of sustainable and inclusive urban regeneration, as the event takes place in the neighbourhood of Tor Vergata. Not only will some of the local structures —most notably Calatrava’s gigantic disused sports complex —be renewed, but all the pavilions are also expected to be reused at the end of the Expo and incorporated into the neighbourhood. In this sense, the project aims to leave a lasting legacy on Tor Vergata far beyond the six-month event and establish a model that can be then applied somewhere else,” Carlo Ratti Associati shares exclusively with STIR.

One of the three zones of the solar farm, the Park will be covered in verdant vegetation and accentuated by thematic structures | CRA for Expo 2030 Roma | STIRworld
One of the three zones of the solar farm, the Park will be covered in verdant vegetation and accentuated by thematic structures Image: Courtesy of CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati

The international design and innovation office based in Torino, Italy, with branches in Boston and London has extensive experience designing and building at World Expos, from Zaragoza 2008 (Digital Water Pavilion) to Milan 2015 (Future Food District) to Dubai 2020 (Italian Pavilion). “(we) worked with Italo Rota, Matteo Gatto, and F&M Ingegneria to build the national Pavilion of Italy at Expo 2020 Dubai, which utilised recycled and reusable materials, from plastic to orange peels and coffee grounds, to create fully circular buildings. The Italian Pavilion was one of the most visited in Dubai (by 1.6 million people) and won Exhibitor Magazine’s Expo Award 2022, among other prizes. After Expo 2015 Milan concluded, we had the chance to repurpose the event site which has become known as MIND, an innovation district that takes the city to a new level in terms of scientific and technological research,” CRA tells STIR.

“We believe the same positive impact could happen to Rome as well, with all the participating countries lending a hand to the evolution of the Eternal City. The Urban Solar Farm is a fundamental pillar to realising our vision because it powers the whole site. Each national pavilion would harvest sustainable energy and then channel it into the system’s grid,” they share.

The city of Rome submitted its ‘Expo Solar Park’ proposal to the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) on September 7, 2022. “The host city will be decided based on a vote participated by the 170 BIE member states, which is expected to take place in November 2023,” shares CRA.

Project Details

Masterplan, Infrastructure and Sustainability: CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati with the collaboration of Italo Rota and Richard Burdett
CRA Design Team: Carlo Ratti, Antonio Atripaldi, Chiara Borghi, Mario Daudo, Erze Dinarama, Aurora Maggio, Bartol Oremovic, Marie Petrault, Andre Zanolla, Gary di Silvio, Pasquale Milieri, Gianluca Zimbardi
Sustainability, Infrastructure and Costing: ARUP - Alejandro Gutierrez, Stefano Recalcati, Sara Lodrini, Paolo Cresci, Pasquale Capizzi, Riccardo Capperucci, Tecla Caroli, Chiara Fraticelli, Ian Carradice, Anna Stewart, Aliaa Youssef, Elisabetta Annoni, Michael Peasland, Emanuela Pettinari, Romano Bignozzi, Giuseppe Nicoletti, Aurora Migliarini, Antonio Sposetti
Landscape Design: LAND - Andreas Kipar, Matteo Pedaso, Martina Erba, Marco Bonanno, Ilaria Giubellino
Mobility Strategy:  SYSTEMATICA - Diego Deponte, Tiffanie Yamashita, Benedetta Fagioli, Dante Presicce
Rome Candidacy Committee for Expo 2030: Giampiero Massolo (President); Giuseppe Scognamiglio (Director General); Matteo Gatto (Dossier Document Editor-in-chief and Technical Director); Livio Vanghetti (Head of Communications and Partnerships); Francesca Dal Puglia, Daniela D’Amico, Cristina Hanabergh, Nicholas Hunt, Lorenzo Lantieri, Giulia Rossano (Editorial Team); Roberto Benini, Mario De Facqz, Beatrice Guerra, Andrea Lamberti Zanardi, Fosca Nomis, Cecilia Risi, Lucia Ritrovato (Communications Team); Ejona Lamce, Silvia Carocci (Organisational Secretariat)

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