Mediterranean transaction

A tree-shaped garden for Energia Mediterranea, land artwork by Antonio di Palma, part of the Fiumara d’arte open-air museum on the Tyrrhenian coast of Sicily.
Mediterranean Transaction, (Visualization Marita Madio)
Mediterranean Transaction, (Visualization Marita Madio)

Year: 2020

Type: Architecture

Location:Motta d’Affermo, Messina, italy

Status: Competition

Designed on the occasion of the competition announced in 2020 by the Fiumara d’Arte Foundation, together with the University of Messina. The line of the competition in which I took part concerns Energia Mediterranea, Mediterranean Energy, a land art installation created in 1989 by Antonio di Palma for Fiumara d’Arte. The competition required a design capable of solving fruition problems, portability, and an interactive augmented reality design that adds value to the visit.

Energia Mediterranea

Energia Mediterranea is a blue 5 meters high wave, large about 20 meters: an impulse that connects the sea and the mountain. It seems to emerge from the context from which it rises in a fluid movement. The area of the intervention is now a large green lawn that stands out from the road by 3-5 meters. It offers a panorama of over 180 degrees on the Tyrrhenian Sea to the north. It is a place of extraordinary beauty on the slopes of a village steeped in history: Motta d’Affermo, in the province of Messina.

Motta d’Affermo

Motta d’Affermo is a perfect example of the energy bleeding of the smaller towns of Sicily and southern Italy, widely inhabited in the past, almost desert nowadays. The intervention area is one of the most important places in Motta. This is where the Mottesi gathered to beat the wheat in a rite that brought the entire community together. Today, the Belvedere is the most visited place by the almost 300 inhabitants. 

On the occasion of the survey and through the Internet, I collected over 50 interviews according to the criteria developed by the Gehl Institute (2011). Independently of the valuable contributions of the citizens, which allowed me to develop an inclusive project aimed at solving the main problems of the area, I felt the discouragement among the few young people of those who know that they will have to leave their homes to build a future. This gives rise to the cornerstone of my project: to represent with a tree-shaped garden, Sicily discovered by the Greek colonists almost three millennia ago (Finley, 1968), an explosion of life and colour, divine place, archetype of fertility, utopian goal and not refuge to be abandoned.

Motta d'affermo, Fiumara d'arte from satellite, GIiuseppe Gallo
Motta d'affermo, Energia mediterranea and project area
Motta d'affermo, Energia Mediterranea, Antonio di Palma, Foto Giuseppe Gallo
Motta d'Affermo and Energia Mediterranea by Antonio di Palma.

Improving the fruition by creating a light and accessible architecture

Major obstacles to the proper fruition are: access to the site, the lack of orientation and areas to rest. Today, access happens on three points, none of which is suitable for people in wheelchairs. Point A, on the northwest of the area, is where citizens drive their cars up next to Energia Mediterranea. The access at the southern tip of the site, point B is the most used by visitors, who immediately see Energia Mediterranea over a steep path that invites climbing among plants and mud. The third access, point C, is the only one that allows a gradual discovery of Energia Mediterranea from a non-random perspective, so that you can immediately see its relationship with the landscape, therefore, it is the only one kept in the project.

Accessibility, orientation and rest areas

I propose to block the access to the northwest, point A, by planting shrubs, as well as the access to the south, point B, also bounded by shrubs that form the background for the new welcome point envisaged on the theatre-shaped area on the south. Here I envisage the installation of 6 totems surmounted by two crossed wooden beams supporting a light covering of river reeds. They are useful for creating a shaded resting area and to support information panels that guide the visitor and tell both the work and the Fiumara d’Arte network and the incredible story of Motta.

Aerial view of the project, design architect giuseppe gallo

The modular totems in reclaimed wood

Constituted of pyramid trunks, hollow modular structures one meter high, made of recycled wood, stackable in different configurations. It is easy to dismantle and store them one inside the other, like a matryoshka with a minimum size for transportation and storage.

A Theater of Knowledge

In the proposed configuration, five modules serve as a base for low information panels, tilted towards the visitor so that both children and people in wheelchairs can easily use them. A Space that I propose along the lines of Camillo Delminio’s Theater of Knowledge (Bottazzi, 2018): where you can access information useful for developing an independent visitor experience and exercising creativity by developing the themes of the visit and sharing the results. 

The difference in height between Energia Mediterranea and the street means that, despite their height, the totem’s roofs are not visible from the large upper lawn, but very visible from the street, serving as an illuminated meeting place for those who visit the Belvedere in the summer evenings. Being able to dwell this space gives visitors the opportunity to appreciate the warmth and availability of a small community that is happy to open up to the outside world and develop community-based tourism practices (Wiltshier and Clarke, 2019).

East elevation, Mediterranean Transaction, Tree-shaped park, Giuseppe Gallo
East elevation.

The tree-shaped wooden paths

To connect the reception area and the access to the garden, I envision a simple white strip of flooring with signs showing the direction to follow. When the visitor arrives near the entrance, he finds himself in front of a valley of native plants, flowers and colours of the Sicilian landscape, at the end of which he can already see Energia Mediterranea. From this point, it is possible to read the shape of the three branches/ramp that move towards him from the Artwork in different inclinations, directions and heights. At the end of the path, the tree directs its roots towards Energia Mediterranea, the source of the incredible fertility of our island.

Mediterranean Transaction

Here the Mediterranean transaction which gives the work its title takes place. The word transaction is not to be understood in the economic sense, but, as Alan Watts (1970) suggests, in the quality of action that develops through different subjects, in a continuity that removes the separation of cause and effect. 

Similarly, there is no continuity solution between Mediterranean energy and fertility, just as there is no continuity solution between nature and man, between the health of the earth and our singular existences. Inside the garden, visitors encounter various opportunities to rest, areas for reflection, play and leisure, both in the main and secondary branches. 

Once you reach the height of the Energia Mediterranea from the central path, you can sit on the roots of the two outer branches or continue your exploration of the garden through other branches to reach places where you can stop, read, relax, or simply sit. The entire path system is in reclaimed wood and resistant and durable pine wood manufactured processed as close as possible to the site. A light steel structure of tubes similar to those used for scaffolding supports the panels. It is easily dismountable and transportable.

Garden, augmented reality night visit, Welcome point
Garden section, augmented reality night visit, welcome point.

Light design and Augmented reality designed to enhance and extend the visit

At dusk, the light reflected from the surfaces of the sea illuminates Energia Mediterranea on its intrados. A thin strip of LED illuminates the tree-shaped paths from the inside. The Mediterranean garden remains in relative darkness unless pinpoint lights are casually positioned near the most coloured plants to make them visible even after sunset. 

The same lights populate the garden at dusk coming to life in augmented reality. AR light flock between the garden and Energia Mediterranea, forming small groups, stopping near the actual lights, and approaching visitors by moving and stopping to wait for visitors, guiding them to Energia Mediterranea. 

Eventually, the artwork becomes a new exclusive place of exchange: the visitor receives as a reward digital resources, books on Sicilian native species, on the history of Sicily before the Greek colonisation or even plants seeds, distributed to children to prolong the experience of the visit and offer them a new learning opportunity that makes them an active part of the Mediterranean transaction.

Read more

Land Art in Sicily, Fiumara d’Arte

Open-Air Museum founded in 1982 by Antonio Presti, Fiumara d’arte is on the Tyrrhenian coast of Sicily, between Palermo and Messina. It comprises twelve works of Land Art created over thirty years in a typical Sicilian landscape.

  • La materia poteva non esserci, Pietro Consagra, Tusa, 1986;
  • Una curva gettata alle spalle del tempo, Paolo Schiavocampo, Castel di Lucio, 1988;
  • Monumento per un poeta morto, Tano Vesta, Villa Margi, 1989;
  • Stanza di barca d’oro, Hidetoshi Nagasawa, Mistretta, 1989;
  • Energia Mediterranea, Antonio di Palma, Motta d’Affermo, 1989;
  • Labririnto di Arianna, Italo Lanfredini, Castel di Lucio, 1990;
  • Arethusa, Piero Dorazio and Graziano Marini, Castel di Lucio, 1990;
  • Atelier sul Mare, various authors, Castel di Tusa, 1991;
  • Museo Domestico, various authors, Pettineo, 1991;
  • Il muro della vita, various authors, Pettineo, 1991;
  • Piramide del 38° parallelo, Mauro Staccioli, Motta d’Affermo, 2010.
  • Il cavallo eretico, Antonello Bonanno Conti, Castel di Tusa, 2020

Antonio di Palma, artist and designer of  Mediterranean Energy

Born in 1963 in William Lake, Canada, he studied in Florence and later experimented with undisciplined sculptural techniques, where it was difficult to distinguish between true sculpture and other similar forms.
His painting is informal and rejects any figurative or abstract form. Greats of the pictorial tradition inspire his experiments such as Masson, Duchamp, Kandinsky, Mondrian and Albers. He made his debut with a first exhibition in Florence, at the Vivita Gallery in 1985, with a presentation of Achille Bonito Oliva. 1989 marked an important turning point for Antonio Di Palma’s work. Presented by the critic Enrico Pedrini and winner of an international competition for young sculptors promoted by Antonio Presti. He then voluntarily and reluctantly left the spaces of the galleries and the biennials and retreated to the mountains in Barbiana, a small village in the Florentine province. Here, Antonio Di Palma continues to experiment and work independently.


  • Bottazzi, R., 2018. Digital Architecture Beyond Computers: Fragments of a Cultural History of Computational Design. Bloomsbury Publishing, London.
  • Finley, M.I., 1968. A History of Sicily, I: Ancient Sicily to the Arab Conquest, trad. It. Biocca Marghieri, L., 1970. Storia della Sicilia antica, Laterza, Bari.
  • Gehl, J., 2011. Life between buildings: using public space. Island press, Washington.
  • Watts, A., 1970. Eastern wisdom, modern life. New World Library, New York.
  • Wiltshier, P., Clarke, A., 2019. Community-based tourism in the developing world: Community learning, development & enterprise. Routledge, London.

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