Coltivando – Abstract


Politecnico di Milano, Italy 2011 – ongoing Davide Fassi, Giulia Simeone Coltivando, is a convivial garden where people meet, experiment, cultivate crops, and share their skills and ideas. Coltivando uses innovative design knowledge and community consultation processes. It is a design research, social and educational project. Conviviality conveys a sense of sociality and sharing knowledge. Such a concept is extended to the overall project through the multi-disciplinary approach where designers from different backgrounds worked together to build a coherent system. In this project, conviviality is also encountered in the participatory approach of the co-design sessions that invited the community to share their ideas about the up-coming garden; in the location of the garden that blurs the borders of the campus and opens its gates to the neighborhood, welcoming people outside the university; in the system, that hosts shared plots where every member of the community can take care; in the community, that always welcome new members without any specific enrolment procedure; in the layout of the space where the absence of any fence in invites people to enjoy and respect the place. As a collaborative service, Coltivando is designed to be a garden where the plots, as well as all the spaces, are shared within the community. Every member has his/her own duty to take care of everything with some members chosen among the others to coordinate some specific tasks, such as seed planning, watering plants, care of garden tools, when and how to harvest, and communication. Problems, decisions and assignments are shared with the whole of the community. (Polimi Desis Lab) Contact

Coltivando – Promoters

coltivando promoters

Politecnico di Milano Polimi DESIS Lab Italy Davide Fassi, Giulia Simeone. Promoters. Politecnico di Milano, Design dept. Politecnico di Milano, School of Design Funders. Politecnico di Milano Aknowledgements. Emily Ballantyne-Brodie, Rpberta Motter, Gustavo Primavera, Paola Russo, Alessandro Sachero, Sonia Zanzi.

Coltivando – Governance and policymaking

coltivando 2

Since the beginning, Coltivando has been co-designed and build by the community together with some researchers and students of the Politecnico di Milano. This is the actual existing community. One of the main outputs from the co-design sessions was not directly associated with design practice, but resulted in strong community building. Through meeting at the workshop, people start to get to know each other, understand each other’s competencies and develop respect for each other – and this resulted in the development of a strong community base to run the service and care for the garden. As a consequence, strict rules were not required to make the garden run. All along the design phase, the issue of the rules was one of the main challenge of the garden (i.e.defining work shifts, roles, timing and communication processes to keep the community cohesion). At the end of this phase, moving on with the prototype of Coltivando, soft rules and auto-regulation happened spontaneously and create a strong community that is able to trigger a democratic process to allocate the roles and the best way to run the garden. Some members are entrusted with specific duties, according to their personal competences and offer themselves to be the main reference for specific tasks (irrigation, seeds bank, planting scheduling, social network etc). (Polimi Desis Lab)

Coltivando – Activism and civic participation

Coltivando 3

Coltivando is not only a garden. Coltivando has been networking with other local gardens, associations and schools to promote the gardening activities and the social relevance of green public spaces. From March to July 2013 a group of students and faculty of the Politecnico di Milano together with associations and members of Coltivando conceived ‘Il Sabato della Bovisa – Saturday in Bovisa’, a platform for actions, services, prototyping space, performances hosted at the campus and close to the vegetable garden, to reinforce the goal of bringing the district and the university together. More than two hundred and fifty elementary school children in the neighbourhood came to visit Coltivando during April to observe the growing of vegetables, explore the area and assess the possibility of replicating the project in their spaces. Since December 2012 Coltivando has participated in activities of promotion and interaction organised by ‘ZAC’ a farmers’ market that includes both organic farms and local associations. Then, based on the experience of Coltivando, in January 2014 the first results of ‘In un giardino – In a garden’ were presented to the district. ‘In un giardino’ was a set of co-design activities about eight urban green spaces of the neighborhood, in collaboration with two local associations in the area, active in some of them and with the students of the Final Design Studio both at BSc in Interior Design and MSc Communication/Movie design. In June 2013 at the ‘Agriculture Civic Award’ and in February 2014 at the ‘Ortofebbraio’, Coltivando was submitted to the Urban Gardens category, putting forward the idea that the garden in the city has to be a place for biodiversity, a social incubator of practical knowledge, and a public place that promotes the use of green spaces for food production.(Polimi Desis Lab)

Coltivando – Social interactions and relations

Coltivando 4

Coltivando community puts together singles, families with kids, retired with students and staff from Politecnico. They belong to an open community: everyone can join the community just helping the works in the garden and share the convivial lunch together. Gardening is the driver that brings people to the place: taking care of a place, force people to come back regularly and to meet the neighbourhood, strengthening up the community sense. Starting from the idea of conviviality, the main focus in the creation of the community of Coltivando was to initiate a process of reunification between two groups of users in the Bovisa District that for years had not had any kind of interaction, the inhabitants of the district on one side and the students, staff and faculty of the Politecnico di Milano on the other. Now, the university community not only inhabits its workspace as commuters, during working hours, but also have become part of a larger group through interacting with local residents. On the other hand, people living in this area have an insight into university life, its people and places, and are involved in activities that could improve their quality of life. The use of a convivial garden as a tool for reunification has great potential in the formation of a community: the act of building and then sowing, cultivating and taking care of the plants, as well as harvesting the food produced – all collectively contribute to strengthen ties within the community that is being created while at the same time, the opportunity for individuals to become self-sufficient in the production of fruit and vegetables is created. One year after the opening, the community of Coltivando totals twenty permanent members with an ever-increasing number of visitors who occasionally participate in maintenance activities and take advantage of the opportunity to spend some time in, and enjoy, a public green area. Further some of the Coltivando users have started to collaborate with two kindergartens in the neighbourhood: the Politecnico di Milano one, which is based in the same campus, and the Comunale di via Guerzoni. They let the two schools interact with Coltivando by letting them use some garden boxes for small activities with the young kids. In the Comunale di via Guerzoni, Coltivando users also work as volunteers with the babies and the nurse to set up a small garden corner within the open air spaces of Coltivando. (Polimi Desis Lab)

Coltivando – City and environmental planning

Coltivando 5

Coltivando is built on a public area, rented by the Municipality of Milan to the Politecnico di Milano. In the same year of Coltivando opening, Milan City Council approved a policy to exploit green abandoned public spaces as (vegetable) gardens for local residents and then started a public call “coltivaMI” to give pieces of public land for free for gardening and social activities purposes to Milanese associations. Coltivando members often participate to seminars, meetings, conferences about the community gardens issues or local food policy: the open assembly about Green and Environment in the city council of Milan (Tavolo del Verde), the milanese network of community gardens (“Libere Rape Metropolitane”) and is quoted as one of the best practices by the council members ( In the last months, this project has been considered as incubator to help the development of others community gardens in the neighbourhood within the campus ( – a Politecnico di Milano research funded project with social purposes. This garden will be used to train and explain how to start a community garden from the hardware (garden beds, irrigation system, communication devices etc.) and the software (rules, roles, management etc) point of views. It has been endorsed by several local associations and by the City council of Milan. (Polimi Desis Lab)

Coltivando – Production, distribution and consumption

Coltivando 6

Coltivando is a service for urban agriculture. It an instance of 0 miles food production. People working at Coltivando, bring home their own food as much as they need. Also, they support the sharing of food by eating together every Saturday, with coursed made of the vegetables of the garden. The environmental impact of Coltivando is measurable in terms of introduced biodiversity, environmental sustainability of the hardware component of the project, the adoption of best practices in the use of natural resources, food self-sufficiency and activated social sustainability The cultivation of more than fifty different types of vegetables and fruits in the first season (Spring-Summer 2013) generated a biodiversity in the existing ecosystem that is visible through the activity of several species of insects, the arrival of bees and earthworms in the soil. The system of garden beds (made from only one material i.e. galvanized sheet metal) as well as the compost area and the irrigation system were co- designed following the principle of total disassembly and subsequent recycling or storage of the components. Since the municipality has not yet activated the collection of organic waste in the district, we set up a compost bin through a co-design activity that in the first ten months of the project produced compost to be used in fertilizing the garden. The production of food has ensured self-sufficiency in vegetables for a group of twenty people and has spawned a generational mix of participants as an outcome of the social cohesion produced. (Polimi Desis Lab)

Coltivando – Skill training and Design education

Coltivando 7

Coltivando design process tackled complex design issues that forced designers to work in a multidisciplinary team made of spatial and product-service-system designers. They had to combine their competences to develop the best solution and, moreover, to face the community feedback for every project progress. Such an approach gave the students and teachers involved a rare opportunity to develop a more holistic solution. The multidisciplinary group warranted the definition of the “design problem” outside normal boundaries, reaching an enabling solution based on a new understanding of the complexity. Coltivando developed as a whole natural system and not as a collection of different parts relating to different disciplines. In addition, the student educational side was enriched by the cross-fertilization of some design tools traditionally adopted by one or the other perspective. The constraints that emerged working with other disciplines were a stimulus to go beyond single perspective and figure out a real and reliable solution. The students also had the opportunity to engage with a real project from concept to implementation phase. With Coltivando, students/researchers were forced to talk to real stakeholders, to network with local gardeners and local authorities, to ask about providers and their costs, thus building the first community of members and, in some cases, required to stop and rethink the solution according to its feasibility. This was a starting point for subsequent interdisciplinary collaboration with communication design students too, who later worked with trans-medial and communication strategy output. Coltivando is often used for practical assignments by Spatial, Product and Communication Design students to encourage a consideration of urban nature, the spread of biological wealth and natural resources, as well as encouraging the aesthetic diversity of human habitats. At the same time the involved community got to know what are tohe design tools to be used for this purpose including a DIY toolkit to set up the garden beds and service design tools to develop specific outputs (organization, scheduling etc.) (Polimi Desis Lab)

Coltivando – Job creation

Coltivando 8

To build Coltivando infrastructures and equipments, local craftmen have been involved. The spatial concept of the Garden is based on a DYO, modular building box. That means that in every part of the world, it is possible to replicate the space. For designers, Coltivando is a showcase of new design community centred competences to put in the marketplace. (Polimi Desis Lab)

Coltivando – Storytelling and visualisation

Coltivando 9

Visualisation and storytelling has been the main aid for designers to share their ideas with the community in co-design sessions. The continuous co-design approach, forced designer to envision their thinking in order to communicate it to the community, so they could give feedback. (Polimi Desis Lab)