Once a traditional Italian farmhouse and granary, what’s now known as Greenary is a home that has undergone a transformation that blurs the line between the natural world and the residential one, literally building around an existing tree.

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A home by a lake.

Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA), in collaboration with Italo Rota, redesigned the space with a ficus tree at the heart of it. It’s one of many projects developed in alignment with CRA’s mission to include natural elements into architecture under the theme of biophilia. It’s a philosophy introduced by Harvard professor E.O. Wilson, which suggests people intrinsically want to live close to nature. 

Related: A green remodel gave this 1950s home major treehouse vibes

A walkway up to a house.

That’s easy to do with a 60-year-old tree at ground level inside the home. She makes such a statement, she even has a name, Alma, and as a representative from the ficus australis species, she’s equipped to handle life indoors. However, designers relied on passive design and advanced technological solutions to ensure her comfort.

An L-shaped interior hallway with a tree to the left.

The primary adaptation was to fill the space with copious natural light. Massive windows on the south side contribute to this goal while other systems monitor the temperature and humidity for the comfort of the tree and the residents. The roof and the windows open and close automatically to provide the ideal amount of sunlight and fresh air into the space.  

A tree in the middle of a home.

“In a flat landscape in which there are no mountains, hills, or lakes, but only plains, nature expresses itself through a beautiful light that changes throughout the day. It adds a charming, almost film-like quality to the atmosphere,” said Italo Rota, director of Italo Rota Building Office. “The environmental conditions around the Greenary inspired our design, and this represents one of the different expressions we use to illustrate the harmony between natural and artificial elements.”

A green lawn where a donkey stands in front of a house.

The Greenary embraces an architectural concept developed in the 1900s by architect Adolf Loos, called the Raumplan, which essentially means to have nature at the core. Although Alma is difficult to ignore, there are more subtle natural materials woven into the design, such as soil and orange peels incorporated into the flooring.  

A green lawn in front of a house.

“The 20th-century Italian architect Carlo Scarpa once said, ‘Between a tree and a house, choose the tree.’ While I resonate with his sentiment, I think we can go a step further and put the two together,” said Carlo Ratti, founding partner of CRA and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Much of CRA’s work focuses on the intersection between the natural and artificial worlds. With the Greenary, we are trying to imagine a new domestic landscape built around nature and its rhythm.”

+ CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati

Images via Delfino Sisto Legnani and Alessandro Saletta