Coltivando-The convivial garden at the Politecnico di Milano

Place: Milano, italy, Europe
Food consumption patterns: diet, environment, society, economy and health Food consumption patterns: diet, environment, society, economy and health
Total Budget: € 12.000,00 | Period: From October 2012 To


“COLTIVANDO – The convivial garden at Politecnico di Milano” is the first Italian community garden inside a university campus. COLTIVANDO aimed at creating a urban garden for the district in the green areas of the Durando campus, to enhance an interaction among the residents of the Bovisa neighbourhood and the Politecnico di Milano community, to promote a sustainable lifestyle and to share a green public space that is hidden to most people by letting it be an edible one.  Coltivando has been developed by a group of researchers and students of the Politecnico di Milano’s Design Department together with the neighbourhood. It is a collective space where participants will mind to maintain and care for the green, they will have the opportunity to meet, learn, organize activities; hence, not just a space to grow vegetables but a space to cultivate knowledge, passion, friendship.


DESIS - Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability - Italy

Lead applicant

The POLIMI-DESIS Lab belongs to DESIS Network. It is based in the Department of Design of Politecnico di Milano, is composed of a group of researchers adopting a strategic and systemic approach to design, with a specific focus on design for services and design activism. It has a background in service and product-service-system design for sustainability and investigates the way design can support and trigger social innovation, combining creativity and visioning with the capability of engaging in co-design processes. The Lab operates in multicultural and multidisciplinary contexts, integrating various competences in systemic projects, which require contributions from service design, strategic design, user centered design, interaction design, product design, interior/spatial design, design for territory and local development, communication, economics, architecture, planning and sociology. Involved in several local and international research projects, the group runs post-graduate courses and design studios in service design, product-service-system design, design for sustainability, local development and communication. Several international training collaborations and teaching exchanges are also in place.
 The Lab has a considerable experience in organizing scientific symposiums, events, exhibitions and developing basic and applied research in national and international projects. Its objective is exploring how design can enable people, communities, enterprises and social actors to activate and manage innovation processes, aimed at experimenting with sustainable, convivial and collaborative ways of living and doing. Over the last decade, the group has been contributing to lay the foundations for the disciplines of strategic and service design

Politecnico di Milano, Design Department - Italy

Initiative partner

Politecnico di Milano is a scientific-technological university funded in 1863, which trains engineers, architects and industrial designers. The University has always focused on the quality and innovation of its teaching and research developing a fruitful relationship with business and productive world by means of experimental research and technological transfer. Design Department of the Politecnico di Milano, Italy promotes and develops research and education in the area of design with several approaches: user centred, spatial/enviromental where the people live, the objects they use, the means of communication, moving, consuming, producing and recycling they have, the innovation of the social relationship and the valorization if the cultural heritage.

Human cities II: reclaming public space - Belgium

Initiative partner

The network focused its observations, analyses, production, communication and mediation on various initiatives resulting from a bottom-up process (started by non-institutionalised actors: citizens, artists, and associations) that reshape the forms and ownership of public space. The outcomes of these think tanks are the following: - The creation of a Toolbox that proposes a selection of existing European bottom-up initiatives.. - The development of an Observation Mission tool that allows analysis and evaluation of public space initiatives from five different aspects: structural, behavioural, experiential, cognitive and receptive. - The filming of a Webdocumentary that gives voice to a number of citizens, associations and artists, - Organisation of Human Cities Symposium “Civil Society Reclaims Public Spaces. Cross Perspectives Based on Research” as a part of the Human Cities Festival.

Slow Food Italia - Italy

Initiative partner

IT is a public space where people cultivate organic and even rare vegetables and fruits in an urban environment within a university campus. "Coltivando" is a place where to spend time and meet people from the neighbourhood and the university by sharing best practices on cultivation and learning by doing. it plays a vital role in bringing individuals and communities together, it is a place for a diverse array of people to share experiences, grow vegetables and organise small events about food culture and more. It is a ‘Neighbourhood Lab’ that hosts several activities to boost socialisation among the people living in the surrounding area, and to enhance the relationship between people and spaces.

Coltivando is a design experiment located in the public university space of the Politecnico di Milano – Durando Bovisa Campus allowing the local community to discover a hidden public place, thus adding social and environmental value to the campus and the local community.
Designers claim Coltivando as a convivial project that is a place in which citizens have the chance to produce “km0” food, allowing them to be more attentive to the importance of a diet made up mostly of fresh and local food.
Conviviality conveys a sense of sociality, sharing knowledge, competence, space and such a concept is extended to the overall project.
As a collaborative service (Manzini, 2008) 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: seeds planning, watering plants, care of garden tools, when and how to harvest, communication.

Coltivando: the harvest the harvest
Coltivando: the urban farmers the urban farmers
Coltivando: the opening October 2012: Coltivando opened on October 13th with the bulding of the boxes, beds and collecting intersts to join the first group of garderners!

In the second half of the twentieth century the Bovisa District has been a subject of great change due to the closure of almost all the industries. The new life of the neighbourhood has indeed brought an improvement to public transportation and the building of new residential areas, but public spaces like green areas or piazzas have a minor role in the urban context. The Bovisa campus, was built at the end of the 90s on the site of “Ceretti & Tanfani”, an historical factory which resulted in Bovisa developing as a working class district. Today it is a green space with places to sit and a café but remains an “island for students” and most of the people who knew the place as a former industry do not have the chance to see how it has been transformed. The two types of ‘users’ have very few contact points in common. Coltivando is attempting to change this by trying to re-connect to the agricultural tradition this area had before the Second World War, that today has totally disappeared.

Coltivando: before us May 2012: interview to Antonella and Gaetano Ceccato, citizens of Bovisa neighbourhood (Milan) about the Bovisa Durando campus area before the Politecnico di Milano arrival

Coltivando has four main goals and output aims: social, spatial, productive and educational.

Productive: gardening means first and foremost producing food and, in this case, it means trying to allow the community of 25 people who will take care of Coltivando to be self-sufficient in vegetables and fruit. More than 50 kinds of vegetables are being organically cultivated.

Social: to enable two kinds of community to make contact (university and neighbourhood) so as to give an added value not only to the campus but also to the district allowing the university community and local residents to be part of a larger group.

Spatial: dedicating some of the green areas on the Bovisa Campus to a gardening activity means giving a new function to a place and designing spatial solutions that come from the disciplines taught in the Politecnico di Milano (Design, Architecture and Engineering). The result is a plot of 900 square metres facing onto one of the main neighbourhood streets.


Coltivando: baby gardeners Coltivando: baby gardeners
Coltivando: the garden Coltivando: the garden
Coltivando: the harvest Coltivando: the harvest
Coltivando: urban gardeners at work Coltivando: urban gardeners at work

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.
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, and harvesting the food produced collectively contributes to strengthen ties within the community that is being created, and at the same time gives the opportunity for individuals to become self-sufficient in the production of fruit and vegetables.
The organization of the community of Coltivando has been one of the main focuses: the goal was to set-up an independent group, whose members were able to self-regulate and produce km0 food.

Coltivando: garden construction Coltivando: garden construction
Coltivando: students at work Coltivando: students at work
Coltivando: the urban gardeners Coltivando: the urban gardeners
Presentation of the gardeners Presentation of the gardeners: Mauro
Presentation of the gardeners Presentation of the gardeners: Antonella
Presentation of the gardeners Presentation of the gardeners: Agostina
Presentation of the gardeners Presentation of the gardeners: Rossella
Presentation of the gardeners Presentation of the gardeners: Leonardo

Initially the main design team comprised 2 senior designers Davide Fassi and Giulia Simeone. They were helped by 2 graduate students in Interior Design, Alessandro Sachero and Sonia Zanzi, and 2 graduate students in Product Service System Design, Paola Russo and Gustavo Primavera who developed the service project.
Two years after the opening, the community of Coltivando totals 25/30 permanent members and an ever-increasing number of visitors who occasionally participate in maintenance activities, taking advantage of the opportunity to spend some time in a public green area and enjoying it.
The community is characterized by its diversity: age ranging from 8 to 90 years, different professions and interests, all together sharing the passion of urban farming.

Coltivando: presentation of the team Presentation of the team: Sonia, designer
Presentation of the team Presentation of the team: Davide, coordinator
Presentation of the team Presentation of the team: Alessandro, designer

Opening a vegetable garden in a university that does not provide any teaching in disciplines related to the cultivation and production of food has generated some concerns in the world of community gardens in Milan. The tradition in which these spaces are the result of bottom-up initiatives suggesting new features and uses for abandoned spaces, has here found a new interpretation through the design of the spaces and services. Having made available the Politecnico’s design skills and having involved local residents in the spatial definition of the "hidden public spaces" allowed the initial mistrust to be overcome and affection for the  of spaces and materials to be used has lessened over time due to field-testing of certain formal, technological, material and distribution choices.
The  enthusiasm of the people at the initial launch has been maintained by guaranteeing continuity, by organising weekly meetings to build together the community and the space of Coltivando.

Coltivando: co-design May-June 2012: two co-design workshop at the School of Design of the Politecnico di Milano. Designed by the Polimi DESIS Lab (www.desis-network.org). they have involved more than 100 people form the Bovisa neighbourhood. Spatial inputs, rules, functions and needs, an opportunity to get in touch for the first time.

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 50 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, the compost area and the irrigation system were co- designed following the principle of total disassembly and subsequent recycling. Since the collection of organic waste in the district, we set up a compost bin that, in the first 10 months of the project, produced compost to be used in fertilising the garden. The production of food has ensured a self-sufficiency in vegetables for a group of 20 people.

The Service Design and Spatial Design toolbox of Coltivando is an open-source project available to anyone interested to support the launch of a similar experiment; from Oct ’14 visiting professor Fassi will start a process of involvement of the neighborhood to create a community garden at Tongji University, Shanghai.
From March to Jul ‘13 a group of students and faculty of the Politecnico di Milano together with associations and members of Coltivando conceived "Il Sabato della Bovisa”, a platform for actions, services, prototyping space, performances hosted at the campus and close to the vegetable garden, which reinforced the goal of union between the district and the university. Since Dec ‘12 Coltivando has participated at “ZAC” the Bovisa farmers market. In Jan ‘14 the first results of "In un giardino" were presented to the district. They were co-design activities of 8 urban green spaces in collaboration with two local associations in the area, active in some neglected green areas. 

Coltivando at the farmers market Coltivando at the farmers market Zac! of Bovisa District, Milan
Coltivando at the farmers market Zac! of Bovisa District, Milan Coltivando at the farmers market Zac! of Bovisa District, Milan
Coltivando project area view Coltivando project area view
Coltivando project view Coltivando project view
Coltivando: metal box construction Coltivando: metal box construction
Il Sabato della Bovisa Il Sabato della Bovisa: clothing swap
Il Sabato della Bovisa Il Sabato della Bovisa: book crossing
Irrigation system& cultivation Irrigation system& cultivation
Project timeline evolution Project timeline evolution
Coltivando: box tutorial https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A4MHZbZzZ4Y
../file-system/small/docx ../file-system/small/docx Coltivando_ Link Coltivando_ Link

The dissemination of the results is twofold: popular science and scientific research. The first started with a purely local activity of publishing the commencement of work, distribution of flyers, coming into contact with key players in the area. In Oct ‘12, the Facebook page was created and that is the tool most used by the members to tell what is going on week after week. In support of this page, in Dec ‘12, the website www.coltivando.polimi.it opened with the aim of explaining the design process and using it as an entry into other media devices: Youtube, where there is a collection of videos of co-design activities, the Flickr page showing the photo gallery, and the blog that records the sowing sequence and best practices used in cultivation in a form of a weekly diary, which provides a useful reference for decision-making season after season. Since the beginning, Coltivando has attracted the attention of major national newspapers and presented at a number of conferences.

Coltivando Facebook flyer Coltivando Facebook flyer
Coltivando opening flyer Coltivando opening flyer
Coltivando: 2 years postcard Coltivando: 2 years postcard
coltivando 1 year postcard coltivando 1 year postcard
coltivando 1 year postcard 2 coltivando 1 year postcard 2
Coltivando: 2 years event Coltivando: 2 years event
Coltivando: promotional video Coltivando: promotional video realized by a group of students of the School of Design, Politecnico di Milano
Coltivando: promotional video Coltivando: promotional video realized by a group of students of the School of Design, Politecnico di Milano
Coltivando: promotional video for children Coltivando: promotional video realized by a group of students of the School of Design, Politecnico di Milano