The Autogrill Olive Tree

With Michele de Lucchi
Mercato del Duomo, Milan

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The Autogrill Olive Tree installed at the entrance of Il Mercato del Duomo

Factum Arte has made a sculpture of an olive tree with its complete root structure - a symbol for healthy sustainable systems - The same attention was paid to the details of the roots as it was to the trunk, leaves and fruit. The tree was commissioned by Autogrill for the entrance of its new building "Il Mercato del Duomo" in Milan.

Michele de Lucchi is the architect of the entrance space and has created a vertical market next to the spectacular galleria designed by Giuseppe Mengoni in 1865.

The building was completed on the 30th April in time for the the opening of Expo Milan 2015 but formally opens on 26th May.Four 500 year old olive trees that were due to be cut down were purchased and carefully excavated in a project of archeological precision. They were unearthed gradually in order to keep most of the extensive root structure intact. Olives can be successfully transplanted as long as all the roots that are covered by the trees shadow are retained. Three of these trees have been replanted. The roots of the weakest tree were carefully cleaned and prepared for casting. The upper parts of the other trees were moulded to produce one ‘archetypal olive tree'. The casting process followed a complex strategy - some was cast using lost wax casting techniques other parts were encased, burnt out and cast in a centrifugal casting system. Additional branches and leaves were obtained from a local farmer who was pruning his trees while roots were gathered from the local ‘environmental’ depot.

The focus of the work is on the symbiotic relationship between man and his environment - the emphasis is on nurture through careful gardening based on an intimate understanding on our relationship with the physical world.

After extensive research a special brass alloy was used when casting the tree. It was clear from early tests that a truly natural appearence could only be achieved with a flexibile material. The production of the tree started with the removal of the tree in Mid January and ended on the 20th April when the tree, packed in sections for transport was transported to Milan. The success of the project is due to the extraordinary work of Esfinge Foundry and a team from Factum who worked long hours, six days a week.

In Milan the top hald of the tree was suspended from cables and lifted so the bottom half could be joined and secured. The final roots and leaves were then welded in situ and chased to remove all evidence of human intervention. From top to bottom the tree measures over 6 meters, weighs about 2 tons and hangs level with the 3rd floor of the building. Despite its weight the finished tree appears weightless - as if the tree is in the process of metamorphosing into something ethereal as it transformed from a living structure into an ideal representation of itself.

The collection of the trees in a field outside Madrid



Cleaning of the roots

The olive tree hanged in Factum Arte's workshop after the cleaning

Preparation of the moulds




Collection of the leaves and branches in a field, outside Madrid

Preparation of the leaves before being cast



Casting of the leaves and branches at the foundry




Welding the different parts of the tree

The first parts of the tree being welded to the internal steel structure


The last phase of the production process at the foundry

Welding the roots

The olives ready to be welded to the branches

The leaves

The tree ready to be shipped to Milan


The arrival of the tree in Piazza del Duomo in Milan

Unwrapping the tree

The trunk of the tree being welded to its roots



The tree hanging


The tree finally installed and floating at the Mercato del Duomo




Watch here the video of the making of the tree

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