The latest World’s Fair is currently underway in Milan, Italy. Called Expo Milano 2015, this year’s fair is themed “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” Among the thematic exhibits is “Future Food District,” conceived of by Carlo Ratti, director of MIT’s SENSEable City Lab.

Designed by Carlo Ratti Associati in partnership with supermarket chain COOP Italia, the District covers 7,000 square meters, and explores how digital technology can change the way people interact with food. Ratti hopes that the interactive installment will inspire visitors to learn more about the food they consume.

The exhibit features a real supermarket with 1,500 products available for purchase. Instead of large metal shopping carts, cardboard baskets with attachable wheels are offered. As visitors browse items, information about the product’s origins, ingredients, and manufacturing is digitally displayed.

“Every product has a precise story to tell,” explains Ratti on his website. “In the near future, we will be able to discover everything there is to know about the apple we are looking at: the tree it grew on, the CO2 it produced, and its journey to the supermarket shelf.”

As visitors wander through the market, a device called “the world’s largest plotter” spray paints data on the building’s exterior, visualizing the activity happening within. Outdoor displays on the plaza explore new ways of producing food, including a vertical hydroponic system for growing vegetables, and algae and insect harvesting systems.

The world’s population is estimated to reach 9.1 billion by 2050, which would require a 70% increase in global food production—an increase that current production methods are unequipped to meet. Ratti hopes that concepts presented at Expo Milano lead to new ideas about food production. Says Ratti: “As Alan Kay said, ‘The best way to predict the future is to invent it;’ such endeavors should happen in a collaborative way.”

See more photos of the Future Food District, and discover the inspiration behind Ratti’s design.

Learn more about how MIT students, faculty, and alumni are changing the global equation on water and food in the Summer 2015 issue of Spectrum.

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