Future farming pavilion reboots the veggie patch

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Area del Futuro pairs sustainable agricultural practices with online monitoring 

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Having imagined a future of drinks mixing with its Makr Shakr robotic bartenders, design studio Carlo Ratti Associati has now developed a future food experience, too. Visitors to Area del Futuro (Area of the Future) will be able to plant seeds for hydroponic cultivation and track their growth remotely via an app.

The Area del Futuro pavilion will form part of the FICO Eataly World "edutainment park" in Bologna, Italy, which is essentially a theme park focused on food-production and nutrition. Eataly is an Italian food retailer seeking to promote cottage-industry products at sustainable prices, while FICO is the Fabbrica Italiana Contadina (or "Italian Farms Factory").

The vision for the "Disneyland of food" is a sprawling 80,000-sq m (861,000-sq ft) complex housing restaurants, markets, labs, demo fields, breeding farms and a convention center. Aimed at families and children, it will allow visitors to experience Italy's culture of food and nutrition.

Carlo Ratti Associati worked up the concept for Area del Futuro in partnership with Eataly and the Bologna agri-food market (CAAB). It pairs sustainable agricultural practices with online monitoring to provide a "collaborative, in-store cultivation system" that anyone can use. The pavilion will also act as a space for discussion about traditional farming and new cultivation systems.

The circular pavilion leads visitors past a hydroponic vegetable garden designed to highlight the maturation process of the crops, which grow as the visitor moves through the pavilion.

"Moving through the space of the pavilion will be like moving through time," says Carlo Ratti, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and founder of Carlo Ratti Associati, in a press release. "As you walk through, you will observe the progression of plant growth: from seeds and sprouts at the entrance of the farm to fully developed vegetables after a few meters."

Visitors will be able to take part in the shared cultivation process by planting a seed of their preferred vegetable species in a growing module, and slotting the module into the hydroponic tank. It will then be possible to pair the module with the accompanying Eataly World smartphone app and follow the plant's growth progress remotely until it is time for it to be harvested.

Sensors are used to measure the biological conditions of the plants, with their development shown via data visualizations. Once a vegetable is ripe, it will be possible for the person who planted it to collect for eating, or to allow it to be given away.

"Those of us who grew up on a farm know the feeling of planting a seed and then obsessively checking on its progress each day," says Ratti. "It's like discovering the magic of life as it progresses. We wanted to make such an experience accessible to everyone, even those who live in the depths of the city. This sort of urban farming will probably never be able to satisfy all of our cities' feeding needs. But it does allow us to create a more direct relationship between urbanites and nature."

FICO Eataly World is currently under construction and is due to open in 2017, with the Area del Futuro pavilion to be be located at its core.

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