International design and innovation office Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA) has worked with high-end chocolate producer Venchi to design an interactive pavilion featuring an edible wall made up of chocolate pralines. The project is part of the new Venchi area within FICO Eataly World, the theme park dedicated to Italian food culture opened to the public on November 15th. Carlo Ratti Associati also designed Hortus.
The external walls of the pavilion are made up of more than 30 thousand pralines of different varieties, spread over an 8-meter-long (25-foot), 3.5-meter-high (11.5-foot) surface. Each chocolate candy can be potentially picked by visitors, making the vertical element of the pavilion entirely edible. From afar, the pralines are arranged in a mosaic that makes them look like a giant chocolate tablet, which has been dubbed the largest chocolate arrangement in the world.
“I never liked the fact that exhibitions require the use of large amounts of construction materials that then end up in landfills after just a few months”, comments Carlo Ratti, founding partner of CRA and director of the Senseable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: “In this project we thought: what if the pavilion could be dismantled by simply eating it? We also liked the reference to the timeless fairytale of Hansel and Gretel. The construction process, however, proved to be more challenging than we initially thought – as some building parts were eaten up on site during the installation...”
The inside of the pavilion is also focused on chocolate, and it explores the effects of chocolate on humans. After entering through the chocolate wall, visitors can engage in a digitally-augmented tasting experience. Each of them is invited to sit inside a booth and try different Venchi pralines. Using Artificial Intelligence and facial recognition technologies developed in collaboration with Milan-based interaction design studio Dotdotdot, each person’s reactions to different types of chocolate are inferred form the micro-movements of lips, eyebrows, pupils, nostrils and forehead.
After the individual tasting experience, visitors walk into the “Chocolate Portraits” room. There, recordings of their own emotions when eating chocolate are projected. Individual reactions are analyzed and shown in bright colors, almost like a scientific dissection of archetypical human reaction to food. In this ethereal and exhilarating space, dozens of faces seem to float in the air. It is like a portrait gallery, showcasing images of men, women, and children of all ages responding to the pleasures of chocolate.
After exiting the Chocolate Portraits room, visitors enter a laboratory where they can observe and partake into the making of Venchi’s products. There, they can get a hands-on demo of the manufacturing process, but also create a fully customized chocolate tablet, tailored to their personal taste based on the data about individual preferences gathered in the previous area.
GB Mantelli, CEO of Venchi: “Food has always been one of the best expressions of a culture's identity, sense of place, and spirit”, says “Now, with the new store at FICO, we tried to push the boundaries of design, combining the taste of chocolate with visual creativity and invention. Italy has always been synonymous
with good food, cheerfulness, and design; in short, all the qualities that the new Venchi store represents. Working with Carlo Ratti Associati has been crucial to achieve such an effect, and the result defines a new, exciting standard for our company’s stores”.
“With this new concept, Venchi is thrilled to establish the first database to understand the feelings and emotions of chocolate lovers while they taste delicious, traditional and healthy Venchi pralines”, says Cécile Osti, head of Marketing and Digital at Venchi: “This represents the next step in our quest to develop the best treat for our customers - a piece of premium chocolate.”
“This project investigates a possible future for retail spaces as e-commerce becomes more and more widespread”, says Andrea Cassi, project lead at CRA: “To reclaim the importance of physical space, we must shape a unique experience, in which the digital and physical together produce a new kind of magic – in this case reconnecting us with the emotional language of fairytales. In order to achieve this concept, it was fundamental to create this project with Venchi, receiving their inputs and valuable ideas”.
“The interaction design project for Venchi is one of our first applications of Affective Computing in the field of exhibition design”, says Alessandro Masserdotti, co-founder of Dotdotdot: “We trained an algorithm based on Artificial Intelligence to trace, analyze and categorize facial expressions, an example of creative application of one of the most interesting and compelling technology”.