International design and innovation office CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati, Office for Living Architecture (OLA), and non-profit organization GAL Terre del Po unveil The Tree Path, an elevated bicycle route that runs in-between trees, resting on two parallel rows of plants that act as pillars. Set in the Italian countryside, the project leads to Sabbioneta – one of the country’s best-known UNESCO World Heritage Sites – and explores sustainable mobility while blending the natural and the artificial. People can walk or cycle on a lifted platform amidst treetops, while sensors embedded within the greenery track environmental conditions in real-time.
The Tree Path was designed by CRA in close collaboration with OLA, one of the world’s leading experts in a technique known as Baubotanik (“botanic construction” in German) – by which trees can become ever-evolving architectural elements. The project envisions planting roughly one thousand trees, whose growth would be a central element of the design process. The plants would grow around a stainless steel handrail, building and transforming the path structure over the course of several years. The Tree Path unfolds vertically on three different levels, rising up to six meters above the ground, bypassing road traffic and waterways.
The pathway incorporates digital sensors to measure multiple factors in the atmosphere, from air pollution to the health and growth status of individual trees. The sensors will also help ensure that all the living organisms along the path can respond to changing environmental conditions or structural loads – realizing a vision of an “Internet of trees”. The project will use the artificial intelligence system provided by the Mindicity Urban Intelligence platform.
“What if one day we could grow architecture like a tree? We are still very far from that future, but we can start exploring the convergence between the natural and the artificial. We can use trees as elements of construction, while leveraging the data from digital technologies to get a better understanding of the surrounding environment,” comments Carlo Ratti, founding partner at CRA, and director of the Senseable City Lab at MIT.
The Tree Path will connect the VENTO Cycle Route, a 700-kilometer-long bicycle path that parallels the Po river across north Italy, with Sabbioneta, via the neighboring town of Casalmaggiore. Sabbioneta, located near the city of Mantua, was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008 for its practical application of Renaissance urban planning theories.
CRA has been investigating the convergence between the natural and the artificial with projects on different scales. In 2021, the studio completed The Greenary, a private residence in the province of Parma, Italy that revolves around a ten-meter-tall tree placed at the center of the house. In the field of mobility, CRA developed future scenarios for New Deal Paris, a speculative vision that would transform the main highways around the French capital through the large-scale adoption of autonomous vehicles and other forms of shared mobility. The office has also been drafting a comprehensive plan for sustainable mobility for the city of Prishtina as part of the Urban Study commissioned by Manifesta 14, the Biennale of contemporary art and culture opening in Kosovo in July 2022.