RiceHouse is a young company, born in 2016 and based on the decade-long experiences of architect Tiziana Monterisi. Namely in the sustainable construction field and in the use of natural materials in architectural design. The start-up transforms waste from rice production into green construction materials. This Italian idea can easily be extended to other fields of application besides architecture. Like that of fashion, design and retail, for instance.
Where did the idea of converting waste from rice production into green building materials come from?
“When I moved to Biella, I was immediately inspired and fascinated by the landscape with its rice fields. As I was tired of traditional energy-efficient architecture, I saw rice and its by-products as a new opportunity. My aim is to offer a line of bio-ecological solutions for realizing so-called “rice houses.” Buildings with a high degree of comfort and healthy indoor climates. I follow the bio-architectural approach that recycles agricultural waste. As in, any generated waste and the impact on the environment is kept to a minimum. This establishes healthy, environmentally sound architecture with excellent performance levels.”
When did you realize that this idea could actually work?
“Ever since the beginning of my practice as an architect, I have been experimenting with natural materials on the various building sites that I’ve dealt with. The occasion that made me really realize that these scraps could work was when I decided to use them to renovate my own house. That was how I came to fully understand their potential. So, that’s when I decided to develop this further on an industrial scale.”
What has been the main obstacle for RiceHouse?
“First of all, we had to make it clear to the farmers that they had an important resource with their valuable waste. Material that is even now still being incinerated. Which is, in fact, such a waste. The public sector – including the Piedmont region – has been instrumental in setting up the network that was necessary for the project’s success. Lack of a real dialogue with industry representatives is an obstacle as far as the expansion of this circular system of rice waste recycling is concerned. This type of waste can really become a resource for other industries. This opportunity should not just depend on mutual contacts and meetings. It needs across-the-board planning on a communal level.”
What do you think of how Italy supports its starters?
“It’s constantly evolving. But there is still a long way to go. Many banks and private investors are not yet inclined to invest in or finance start-ups. In addition to this purely economic side, there is a lack of proper vocational training. Even incubators, which are supposed to train future entrepreneurs, find it difficult to provide the right expertise at an organizational and management level. They tend to limit themselves exclusively to supporting a start-up’s profile and communication.”
What has been the biggest turning point that you have experienced for your business?
“There hasn’t been a real turning point as yet. However, we have already started thinking about other application areas. With the RISOrsa brand, based on rice by-products, we are not only exploring architecture, but also the world of fashion, design and retail.”
What are you most proud of?
“The certitude that we have set up a company that has a genuine ambition to change the way we think about the world. Thinking outside the box about sustainability. Not just when it comes to construction, but across all sectors. Being responsible for making choices that are not always comfortable. Pursuing a vision and striving to be true to my choices and principles. Which allows me to sleep soundly every night, in the conviction that my work contributes to my daughter’s future.”
What can we expect from RiceHouse this year?
“We are following a model of ongoing research and development as well as testing new products that are being brought onto the market. New products for the construction industry are therefore not ruled out. We are also exploring the world of fashion, design and retail with the RISOrsa brand. Above all, this innovation can also be applied in many other areas where rice is produced; on all 5 continents, in more than 100 countries worldwide.
One of our objectives is to export our model to numerous countries around the world. Perhaps through investors outside the world of start-ups, who are interested in investing in sustainable projects and economies. This would make it possible to develop all the areas involved from an economic and social point of view and especially from a sustainability point of view. We are currently trying to gain access to the German-speaking market (Germany, Austria and Switzerland). We think that people there are much more willing to work with our natural materials.”
Are you affected by the consequences of the Covid-19 crisis yet?
“Sure, just like everyone else. This is not an easy period for us. Production has stopped. So in a few weeks – if it doesn’t resume – we won’t have any more materials for deliveries. The next few months will be the hardest. At the moment, we are mainly researching and developing new products and technological innovations. We can do that from home. The construction sector is our most important market. I don’t know whether the sector will drop back to 2008 levels, or whether the construction industry will recover without any major setbacks.
Nevertheless, we hope that this crisis will raise awareness of some fundamental issues regarding our health and the survival of humanity. Making the choice to become sustainable for the well-being of the environment and therefore of humankind. Covid-19 has made clear to us that building and living in a healthy home made only with natural materials is an important part of any change that we need to enact. It forces us to understand that the status quo that we have become accustomed to is anything but normal.”