Cool Under the Sun by CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati

Cool Under the Sun

CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati and Italian gelato and frozen-desserts company Sammontana unveil a beach umbrella that uses the sun’s energy to provide cooling, showcasing how to make summer enjoyment sustainable. Each module features an unfolding photovoltaic array – designed with Italo Rota in collaboration with world-renowned inventor Chuck Hoberman, inspired by aerospace technologies – to generate electricity for refrigeration and cooling.

The beach umbrellas can be adapted to any beach resort, and will be showcased for the first time in Milan during the summer of 2021, advancing Sammontana’s environmental commitment. Can a beach umbrella use sun’s energy to provide cooling? Sammontana, Italy’s leading gelato and frozen-desserts brand, has invited international design and innovation firm CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati and architect Italo Rota to develop a project that puts forward a more sustainable vision for the beach resorts of tomorrow.

An unfolding photovoltaic array – designed in collaboration with the proponent of “transformable design” Chuck Hoberman and inspired by aerospace technologies – generates electric power, which is then used for refrigeration and cooling. The first prototypes of the beach umbrella will be showcased in the city center of Milan, Italy, from June 12th at BAM-Biblioteca degli Alberi Milano Park. The project furthers Sammontana long-term commitment to making summer pastimes more environmentally friendly.

The beach umbrella designed for Sammontana, which opens like a work of origami as well as the solar systems on NASA spacecrafts, is 2.5 meters high (8.2 feet) and occupies a diameter of 3.2 meters (10.5 feet). Foldable photovoltaic panels on top of the umbrella absorb sunlight from the whole hemisphere and convert it into electricity, powering coolers and nebulizers underneath. In particular, a mini-refrigerator allows users to keep food and drinks fresh even during the warmest hours of the day.

Electric power from either one or multiple umbrellas can be pooled together to power a large ice-cream refrigerator. The modular system is conceived to be scalable, bringing clean energy to the beachfront resort. The foldable photovoltaic array was developed in collaboration with Chuck Hoberman, a professor at Harvard University who has spent the past four decades developing transformable structures at the crossroads of art, architecture, and engineering.

Such structures allow changing an object’s shape or function through deployable, foldable or demountable elements. Inspired by photovoltaic systems on NASA’s spacecrafts, Hoberman helped develop a transformable system that combines retractable coverings, joint design, and dynamic building methods. Since 2016, Sammontana has initiated a process to reduce the environmental impact of its activities, inspired by the principles put forward in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

A prototype of the beach umbrella will be exhibited from June 12th to August 8th, 2021 at BAM-Biblioteca degli Alberi Milano Park, which is an initiative of the Riccardo Catella Foundation. The installation, located in the fashionable Porta Nuova district of Italy’s design capital, creates a lounge area that can be accessed by the public free of charge, as with all the initiatives of the BAM cultural program.

The project is showcased both in the stand-alone mode and in an aggregated form – featuring eleven beach umbrellas powering a refrigerator. The Milanese test will serve as the first step to evaluate how the innovation process might accelerate and potentially be brought to Italy’s 8,000 km (4,970 miles) coastline, promoting a more sustainable approach to summer leisure. Source by CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati.

  • Location: “LidoBAM – L’energia del sorriso di Sammontana”, BAM-Biblioteca degli Alberi Milano, Italy
  • Architect: CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati
  • CRA team: Carlo Ratti, Andrea Cassi (Project Manager), Matteo Zerbi, Luca Giacolini, Alessandro Peretti Griva, Serena Giardina, CRA Graphics team: Gary di Silvio, Pasquale Mileri, Gianluca Zimbardi
  • Creative Lead: Italo Rota
  • Design consultancy: Chuck Hoberman
  • Year: 2021
  • Photographs: Roberto Conte, Courtesy of CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati

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