The project Empathy Garden was born as an installation in the Central Pavilion of the Exhibition Centre of Villa Erba on the Lake of Como in occasion of Orticolario (3-5 October 2014) – one of Italy’s leading events on advanced gardening.
An Evolution of the project St Horto (MoMA showcased project and A+Award Architizer 2014 winner), Empathy Garden is a hybrid space: a meeting point, a stage for events and promotion of a culture of sustainability as ecosystemic consciousness, a showcase for local farms products and an immersive experience where atmospheric perceptions, the activity of plants and people are converted into a soundscape.
The key concept of the project is empathy, the ability to perceive the world outside ourselves, feeling part of it. We believe that only through the development of a strong empathic link with what surrounds us we can find ourselves in balance with nature.
In terms of design the scheme of the installation has been structured on the extremely rational geometric pattern of the central pavilion, modifying the radial structure of the scheme to respond to functional needs and budget. The result is a project composed of fragments that does not renounce to communicate a sense of unity in the points of highest density of the elements, revealing the regularity of the underlying geometric pattern.
The key element that has been taken into account at an early stage was the color and the effect the pavilion would have had within the complex. Another very important issue was the proportion and geometry of the modules and “sails”, as distinctive elements of the installation.
In this respect the landscape architect has carefully studied the arrangement of the species according to the size of individual plants; priority was in fact that despite the density of fruits, flowers and foliage (there were over 800 plants of 20 different species) the structure of the design would remain visible, while the overall intent was to create scenes and target looks towards interesting details.
As for the choice of colors, the landscape architect was inspired by the perfect harmony that binds colors and music in synesthetic perception, even tones therefore as the melody had spread from the center of the garden to the surrounding space. At the center where the volume of the music is increased, the whites of ageratum, carnations and violets, then the yellow marigolds, peppers and chillies in new varieties and yellow violets to accompany our gaze to the tones of orange and red. Cyclamen, snapdragons, alkekengi, nasturtiums, tomatoes and more to the dark shades of blacks cabbages and asters. In a such a sensorial garden we could not have left out the aromatic species, as mint, oregano, myrtle, thyme and helichrysum matched with lippia citriodora have mixed their fragrances to deepen the experience of visitors to this Empathy Garden.
The space of Empathy Garden is a deep space, while you are dragged gently by colors, aromas and music, it becomes easier to remember that we are part of it.
Intimately linked to nature: Empathy as feeling within. In any kind belong waves that propagate from Empathy Garden, whether music or color, bring in some resonance within us, in our inner garden.
Music and Sound Design
In the Empathy Garden also music is also linked to the environment in a symbiotic relationship. A nucleus formed by different melodies, as many as the cardinal points (and wind directions), evolves according to what surrounds it. The rhythmic regularity and control of musical form have been structured in a way to have an effect of unpredictable harmony. The physical and human interaction generate the flow of sound; the role of the composer was to create boundaries within which this could turn chaos into music.
Through the use of the software MaxMSP a truly interactive musical instrument has been developed, capable of generating music which is always similar but never the same. Data from the weather station is converted into MIDI signals and sent to the computer. The latter uses the temperature to change the timbre of the sounds generated by moisture to handle the amount of reverb and direction of the wind to move between the 8 pre-existing melodies. The wind speed is instead associated to the speed of rotation of a “bingo-sequencer” which has 4 spheres within— the contact between the latter and the sides of the hexagonal surface corresponds to a virtual finger that presses on the button, as virtual, of a hypothetical piano.
To insert entropy within the system Markov chains have been used, with the final aim of developing an interactive, multi-levelled experience, capable of generating sounds through interaction with visitors (harps sound and motion tracking systems), with the environment and the plant physiology (through environmental sensors and measuring the electrical activity of the plants).
The goal was to create a stable body governed by mathematical and physical laws but do not renounce the unpredictability and the ability to change itself depending on the surroundings, in a sort of thermodynamic equilibrium. The result is a tribute to nature, perfect in its imperfection.
Concept and Design: Giacomarra Architecture
Landscape Architecture: Matteo Fogaroli Landscape Architecture
Music and Sound Design: Iacopo Sinigaglia
Interaction Design: Marco Pesoli
Marketing: Domenico Canzioniero
Client: Orticolario 2014
Size: 300 sqm
Budget: 30’000 €
Location: Central Pavilion, Centro Congressi Villa Erba. Cernobbio, Como.
© Federico Giacomarra