The supermarket of the future

Carlo Ratti, creator of the Future Food District Coop at Expo 2015, explains how his project was born

21-06-2015
Expo Milano 2015 visitors can also visit the Futur

Expo Milano 2015 visitors can also visit the Future Food Pavilion: a 6,500 square metres wide space born thanks to a collaboration between Coop, the MIT Senseable City Lab and design firm Carlo Ratti Associati

"What will the supermarket of the future look like?" This appears to be the question Coop tried to answer with its store at Expo Milano 2015: to do so, a real shop was created, where visitors can enjoy a real yet innovative purchase experience. The project was assigned to architect Carlo Ratti, who teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, where he’s the director of the Senseable City Laboratory.

Ratti, who founded international firm Carlo Ratti Associati and was nominated in 2011 as one of the 50 most influential designers in America by Fast Company, introduces the work done for Coop at Expo starting from his perception of what is a World Fair: «Expo is a sort of momentary city: in the United States there’s a festival called Burning Man, in which every year thousands of people go in the desert to build and dismantle a temporary city in just a few days. In a certain way Expo too has the goal to create something temporary that would attract millions of people. This was the case since 1851, with the first World Fair by Sir Joseph Paxton, and it is therefore an excellent occasion to experiment and explore different opportunities».

The experiment you directed is called Future Food District. What was your starting point for this exploration?
Expo wanted to have your firm involved in the creation of something that would have future as its object. We had a chance to collaborate with Coop. They had won a public competition to bring large-scale retail inside Expo and it had been decided that there would be a real supermarket. For us it was very important to be able to dedicate ourselves to a very concrete project.

Why so?
Future is a very delicate theme: it is difficult, if not impossible, to tell the future. On 1st January 1900 the Boston Globe published an article telling how we would live in 2000. Today it makes you laugh, they didn’t guess a single thing. Speaking about the future in an abstract way has little meaning. What is useful is experiments which, in a collaborative way, can make us understand which direction to take. The role of the designer is indeed to explore these possible worlds.

In the specific context of a supermarket, which were the experiments you imagined?
The inspiration for the Coop supermarket arrived from Italo Calvino’s Signor Palomar: one day, Signor Palomar enters a fromagerie in Paris and – says Calvino – he feels as if he were in a museum, in which every cheese tells the story of a different pasture under a different sky. We started from the idea that these products could tell their story. Today we are told many things about many products, we can know the story of a bottle of wine, of its producer, the vineyard where it is born and much more. Still, we don’t find this information at the supermarket.

How did you make it available?
With as little technology as possible, so that a client can simply move his hand and products will start to tell their story. This idea, from our point of view, connects many things we discussed about the supermarket of the future.

Carlo Ratti, born in Torino in 1971, is one of the

Carlo Ratti, born in Torino in 1971, is one of the most appreciated and respected designers and architects in the world

A simple gesture of the hand, close to one of the

A simple gesture of the hand, close to one of the products displayed at Coop’s Future Food District, is enough to activate the screens above and have the info on the product appear


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