Every day, the cows on Gianantonio Locatelli’s dairy farm in northern Italy produce around 30,000 liters of milk. They also make 100,000 kilos of poop. For the farmer, as he considered how to deal with the massive piles, he started to see the potential for using it as a new material.
During Milan design week, Locatelli, along with architect Luca Cipelletti, displayed their latest project: A line of new terracotta-like products made from the farm’s poop and clay, a material they call merdacotta.
“The key concept behind the whole project is the respect of poop as a rich material with possible and sustainable uses–not waste,” says Cipelletti, who has been collaborating with Locatelli for four years. The products, which range from flower pots to furniture, don’t smell. The poop goes through a biogas generator, which extracts methane to produce energy and leaves behind dry, odorless dung. Then it’s mixed with straw, farm waste, and Tuscan clay, and molded into something new.
Tiles made from dung can be used on floors or walls; “merdacotta” flower pots look like traditional pots, but are sturdier in cold weather. A “shit cube” is designed as a stool or a nightstand, while the “shit giga brick” can be a bench or table (“merda” means “shit” in Italian). Then there’s the “shit toilet,” which the designers describe as “a receptacle for shit made of shit.”
“The materiality is warm and honest,” says Cipelletti. “[There’s also] a lightness to merdacotta, which industrial terracotta has lost.”
Back on the farm, Locatelli and Cipelletti run the Museo della Merda (The Shit Museum), housed in a medieval castle called Castelbosco on the site, where visitors can learn how the farm is processing waste. If it seems whimsical, it’s actually pointing to a serious problem: methane from cow manure, along with cow farts and burping, is one of the reasons that livestock contribute 18% of climate emissions.
As the project shows, that pollution can be mitigated–and the poop can actually turn into something worthwhile–both energy and objects. “It follows a principle that redesigns the cycle of nature to form a virtuous circle,” says Cipelletti. “Giving shit back the value it deserves. The Shit Museum is cultural project and a starting point in a possible change.”
Each of the products is produced in limited editions, though Cipelletti has bigger ambitions. “I’d like to use it in the construction of a pavilion or–why not–an entire house,” he says.
All Photos: Henrik Blomqvist