Karl Kolbitz’s “Entryways of Milan: Ingressi di Milano”

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Over the centuries, Milan‘s style has been defined by its geographical position and illustrious history. The Italian city lies on a plain, equidistant from the sea and the mountains, and its climate is colder than Mediterranean Italy. Of course, French and Austrian dominations influenced design, architecture and overall culture. All this is clearly reflected in buildings across the city, where the great beauty is sometimes well-hidden—rigorous façades often conceal imaginative interiors, beautiful courtyards and lush gardens. That said, many Milanese buildings reveal their hidden identity starting at their entrance halls, surprising the visitors and hinting at the beauty that will be found inside.

Editor Karl Kolbitz is so passionate about this Milanese dimension that he worked with TASCHEN on a beautiful new book, aptly titled “Entryways of Milan – Ingressi di Milano.” This photographic tome shows 144 of the city’s most stunning entrance halls, focusing on the timeframe from the 1920s to the 1970s. This perhaps unexpected perspective on Italian modernism focuses on the work of not-so-famous architects as well as renowned names like Giovanni Muzio, Giò Ponti, Piero Portaluppi, and Luigi Caccia Dominioni.

Kolbitz worked on the book in collaboration with photographers Delfino Sisto Legnani, Paola Pansini and Matthew Billings. Their photos are incredibly rich, despite the architecture sometimes being sparse. Not just about visuals, the book includes thoughtful essays from international architects and lecturers such as Penny Sparke, Fabrizio Ballabio, Lisa Hockemeyer, Daniel Sherer, Brian Kish, and Grazia Signori. With detailed descriptions of each design—from materials, to architects, furniture brands, and even full addresses—this is a comprehensive guide.

A book for locals and visitors alike, Koblitz writes in the foreword, “Milan is a city that draws you in, that shows itself while screening itself at the same time. It is at once private, grandiloquent, and refined. How can it be that this city, which has exported its design all over the world, has kept so silent about its exuberant and profuse entryways?”

Entryways of Milan – Ingressi di Milano” is available online for $70.

Images courtesy of Taschen

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Milan Design Week 2017: Studiopepe’s “The Visit”

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How do we offer access and exclusivity through design at the same time? How do we maintain intimacy in the age of social media? These are questions that seem to have yielded one of our favorite projects at Milan Design Week this year; “The Visit” by Studiopepe. Set inside the Brera Design Apartment, a private space of multiple identities in the heart of Brera (one of the most elegant and design-savvy neighborhoods of Milan), the installation was arranged in and as a real home. It was a space begging to be lived in, far from the classic commercial presentations and galleries just outside.

“The Visit” extended afterward the festival, but reservations were required throughout. In a way public and private at the same time, the exhibition offered a peaceful reprieve during design week’s hectic scheduling. Arianna Lelli Mami and Chiara Di Pinto, founders of Studiopepe, were always present to welcome guests and eager to describe every single detail of the never boring, always elegant space. Vintage pieces, works of art, colorful walls, masterful lighting, materials of all sorts—everything united to create a game of contrasts. This was Studiopepe’s manifesto, and their most complete project to date. Further, it reflects the values of the new Milanese interior design movement.

The project was born in a private moment, in one of the most famous design spots in Milan, Lelli Mami explains to us. “More than a single product or set-up,” she says, “We wanted to tell a rite, a gesture, that of visiting the intimate dimension of the apartment. It all began from a chat between Chiara and me at Bar Basso.” All of this intimacy is evident through the experience.

Entering felt like a visit to a friend’s home. The reason why is simple, “After working for projects in larger spaces, showrooms and fairs, we were looking for a more intimate dimension, [that would be] able to unveil what we are and what we like through details. This is the intimate atmosphere that we would like to bring—even in a non-domestic project, like a hotel,” Lelli Mami says. “When we design our objects, we always think of a house, where to place them, and what kind of person may like them. As creative directors, we love each project to tell a story.” In fact, being at “The Visit” one could imagine stories about the possible inhabitants of the place, and narratives that could originate a novel or even a movie.

Studiopepe’s touch and taste in interior design becomes clearer and clearer with every project. When we ask Lelli Mami about their artistic and cultural references she explains, “We love Gio Ponti a lot and all the design milieu of those years, where there was really a happy design vision and an intense intellectual exchange between creative minds. We love a delicate, intense and ironic feminine touch, from Charlotte Perriand to Sonia Delaunay, to Nanda Vigo and Natalie du Pasquier. At an artistic level Brancusi is, for us, an inexhaustible source of inspiration and joy, for its very strong, hard yet poetic, masculine—in antithesis to what has been said before.”

“Our work allows us to continue to discover and look at what may seem common or everyday with ever-new eyes, this is a great deal of privilege,” she continues. “Being a duo and having a studio with several people will definitely help in this process. We would like to find a container to carry out this research and to systematize it. And eventually in our near future there will be a book.” We look forward to their continued evolution.

Images by Paolo Ferrarini

The New Fondazione Prada, Milan

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With over 100 years of history, Prada has long been respected for originality and subtle contradictions—and finding a visually striking balance between dichotomies is what makes the fashion house unique. Milan’s Fondazione Prada complex maintains the values of the fashion empire—albeit through art. The foundation is an independent entity, separate from the fashion business, and in almost 20 years of existence it has hosted philosophy symposiums, movie festivals, and contemporary art and architecture exhibitions in Milan and Venice.

This weekend (9 May, 2015) Fondazione Prada will open to the public in a new stunning location, situated in a semi-peripheral area south of Milan. The beautiful space, which covers almost 20,000 square meters, was an abandoned distillery. Architect Rem Koolhaas and OMA were in charge of the entire renovation, based on the preservation of some areas and also the construction of new buildings.

During the preview, CH spent hours observing the dichotomies: wide open and narrow spaces, marble floors that hit metallic walls, concrete that meets a golden facade. The sense of surprise is constant throughout the space and the attention to detail is evident. Visitors will understandably want to explore every corner, open every door and walk all the corridors.

The restored old buildings at the new Fondazione Prada are a former cistern (a huge space that houses just three works of art, including a Damien Hirst fish-tank), a gigantic warehouse (from which visitors can see the construction of the tower, the only unfinished section) and a series of narrow rooms that make up the South Gallery which is home to paintings and sculptures from the Prada permanent collection. Here in the South Gallery, visitors will find pieces by the likes of Francesco Vezzoli, Piero Manzoni, Yves Klein, Piero Manzoni, Donald Judd and more.

Between the preserved spaces, there are brand new buildings—a movie theater and the Podium, which houses temporary exhibitions. Surprisingly, the Podium isn’t centered on contemporary art, but instead houses classical art. Currently on show (through 13 September) is “Portable Classic,” an exploration of miniature reproductions of classical sculptures, curated by Salvatore Settis and Davide Gasparotto.

Yet another piece of eye-candy is Bar Luce, designed by the beloved filmmaker Wes Anderson. Pastel colors, mirrored windows under the counters, glass jars full of candies and a nostalgic soundtrack all combine to make this cafe feels like it’s straight out of 1950s Italy. The only detail that proves guests haven’t entirely stepped back in time is the placement of USB ports—a very useful addition—making the kitschy bar a perfect place for those suffering art fatigue to refuel and recharge.

In true Prada style, no part of Fondazione is ignored: even the restrooms are stunning. Each one is different and surprising. The bathroom under the Podium is a neutral metallic empty-feeling space. It takes a while to find your way through, as nothing is really hidden but nothing is immediately visible either.

This game of hide-and-seek—full of contrasting eras, art, architecture, textures and colors—embodies the essence of Prada, making Fondazione a truly special place to explore.

Fondazione Prada is located at Largo Isarco 2 20139, Milan and is open every day from 10AM to 9PM. Entry is free for visitors under 18 or over 65 and regular tickets cost €10.

Seven highlights at World Exposition Milan 2015

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This year’s theme at World Exposition Milan is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” Each one of the 140+ participating countries is aiming to show their nation’s present state of agriculture and advances in technology regarding transformation and production of food, as well as the science behind it. The Expo site (which covers approximately one million square meters) is located just outside of the city and was inspired by the structure of an ancient Roman city. Organized by nationalities and thematic clusters, exhibitors show off everything from an entire microclimate to walls covered in seeds, and everything in between. While the exhibits are diverse, the through-line is an exploration of humankind’s relationship with food, nourishment and environment. Here we outline several key must-visit spots at the event—which is on now through 31 October.

The Tree of Life

Close to the Italian pavilion, the “Tree of Life” is the core of this year’s expo. Designed by Marco Balich (the man behind some of the most spectacular events of the last decade, including the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics) this stand is 37 meters high and somewhat overwhelming. More than just a monument, the tree comes to life every hour; offering an incredible show which includes music, water and lights. The performance varies during the day and will take place 1260 times until the end of October.

Pavilion Zero

The first installation visitors will encounter, Pavilion Zero acts as a foreword to the expo’s themes—an introduction to the relationship between humans and Mother Nature. The rich and spectacular scene was curated by award-winning set designer Giancarlo Basili, and it’s hosted inside of a succession of linear domes designed by architect Michele De Lucchi. The exploration starts with a stunning wooden library full of drawers, followed by a jaw-dropping movie screen, walls full of seeds, sculptures of white animals, a huge lead wall, reproductions of garbage dumps and natural catastrophes. Visitors are involved and shocked at the same time, bombarded by memory, knowledge, origins, community, economy, revolution and speculation. Luckily though, harmony is the happy ending.

Italian Pavilion: The Nursery of Italy

Designed by Nemesi & Partners and inspired by a urban forest, the Padiglione Italia is a completely white and irregular box made of hi-tech concrete. The shapes of the architecture call to mind car or boat design—both stand outs in the local industry. The heart of the pavilion is a journey through Italy and its contradictions; from stories about young innovators to ruins, and even the dozens of dialects. Italy’s beauty is well-represented in a series of cyclorama rooms covered with mirrors: a sense of marvel is guaranteed through the infinite multiplication of details, in a sort of dream-like abstraction.

United Arab Emirates: Food for Thought, Shaping and Sharing the Future

Advanced technologies and spectacular architectural solutions are the core of the pavilion designed by Foster + Partners from the UAE. The British architects have reproduced the elegant waves of the desert sand as well as the beauty of canyons and rocks. The 12-meter walls move sinuously and lead visitors to discover a round, golden theater. The back of the building reveals a modern structure—a glimpse at the intersection of this harsh land and the innovations of its people. At the end of October, the pavilion will be dismantled and taken to Masdar City, a town where the UAE are experimenting with the most advanced forms of urban sustainability.

Austrian Pavilion: Breathe Austria

The Austrian Pavilion cleverly offers visitors an experience with the best product the country has to offer: air. Inside a minimalistic concrete structure, Commissioner General Josef Pröll and project director Rudolf Ruzicka managed to unite nature and technology by recreating an Austrian forest and its microclimate. The pavilion produces enough oxygen for 1,800 people each hour and, according to the official statement, that air will stay in visitors lungs for two years. The installation is a peaceful oasis, where visitors rest, enjoy local food, take their time to enjoy the prefect temperature—and breathe.

Brazil: Feeding the World with Solutions

Beyond stereotypes, Brazil’s pavilion translates many ideas that many have about the nation: playfulness, fun, exuberance of nature and modernist architecture. The entrance to the building is an adventure in itself: visitors can access the structure by walking on a huge surface made of nets. The second environment is a completely white, lab-like structure where visitors have the opportunity to discover that Brazil is one of the biggest producers of food in the world—and there’s a lot of science behind it. On the way out, attendees walk underneath the nets through a luxuriant vegetable garden.

United Kingdom Pavilion: Grown in Britain, Shared Globally

Upon entering the UK’s pavilion, visitors will feel like a bee in a hive—as desired by artist Wolfgang Buttress when he conceived the intricate yet logical metallic structure. Before climbing into this honeycomb, visitors can walk through the grass, but once again the point of view is that of bees—since the paths in the grass are irregularly designed trenches. Visually stunning, this is sure to be one of the most photographed pavilions at Expo 2015.

Milan Design Week 2015: Lee Broom’s Department Store

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At this year’s Milan Design Week, British designer Lee Broom is presenting his largest and most mature collection to date. Known as “The Department Store,” this installation consists of 25 of Broom’s newest pieces—from furniture to lighting and accessories. It’s an incredibly accurate reconstruction of an ideal (and surreal) department store, divided in sections such as millinery, beauty, perfumery, bookstore, wine shop, accessories and so on. “The reason for using this kind of theme is that the collection is separated into kind of mini-collections,” Broom tells CH. “I was trying to think about a kind of show that would present them in an interesting way. We always try to do more with the theatrical experience than just a general presentation.”

Inside, the “Wow!” effect is all but guaranteed. Gray blankets the entire color palate—from the walls to the curtains, the props to the mannequins. That is, everything but Lee Broom’s collections which are punctuated by splashes of acid yellow and lacquer red. As Broom himself explains, “I was quite inspired by photographers like Horst and Man Ray, whose works have a beautiful kind of shadowy black and white image to them in a very surreal way. I wanted to have lots of references to a department store, but I didn’t want it to take away from the pieces, so I decided that all of the pieces should be in the finishes that they’re in, and then all of the environment should be in a gray tone.”

The music that plays is also meant to reflect the black and white vibe, with classic tunes from the ’40s and ’50s. The result is a dreamlike energy that permeates the large space. “The Crescent Light [which is the light that features sort of slits] is a good representation of the surreal pieces. It’s taking something that we’ve seen before, this very classic kind of Art Deco globe, but then doing something very simple to change it and make it look different.”

Materials, too, are juxtaposed in unexpected ways—marble in particular. Broom tells us, “I like the texture and the quality of marble, but I was wanting to do something different with it, so lighting seemed like the obvious thing to do. When I did the pieces with the lighting, it was to try and get the translucency of the marble and really those pieces are so impossible to make, especially the Marble Tube Light. We had so many issues with trying to make it that length, it was a combination of finding the right craftsmen, the right polisher, the right machinery, the right marble and to be constantly persistent that we would get it right.”

Once Broom had success with the lighting, it fueled his creative urges to continue working with marble. “I wanted to do some furniture pieces. That’s why I introduced the ‘Acid Marble Collection,’ which starts from taking the white marble, but adding a real kind of splash of color. That was designed for the show rather than the other way around, because when I started having the idea of everything being grey and having this kind of black and white movie feel—I then wanted to inject lots of color in the other pieces. Normally I shy away from color in our pieces, so I kind of pushed myself to do that. The yellow glass and the black and white marble I think is a really beautiful combination. Again, it’s a bit surreal, you know, having the yellow glass with the marble.”

Every piece in the show is sleek and refined—it’s difficult to understand the complex technique, and trial and error behind them. Broom explains, ”I want people to engage with my pieces; not in the same way that somebody engages with a piece of art necessarily, but there should be an element of that where you don’t see everything straight away the first time you look at it. And that’s what makes these pieces exciting.” It’s an untold, secret story that lives in each item’s history that makes many of the pieces extra engaging—not just their present state.

Ultimately, as with most design, Broom’s goal is to tell a story and make something that lasts—something significant. He says, “It’s the idea that we’re creating permanent things that will also have this story and have a craft behind it. And we don’t have to scream about how something is made—that people start to ask questions and then they really connect with the piece, I think [that] is really lovely.”

Milan Design Week 2015: Marni Mercado do Paloquemao

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This year at Milan Design Week, Italian fashion label Marni (founded and led by designer founded by Consuelo Castiglioni) has turned its space into a visually stunning market. Inspired by Bogotá’s famous Mercado de Paloquemao—a market full of bright fruits, vegetables, flowers, as well as fish, meats and plenty of colorful characters—Marni’s installation draws on bold, bright colors and the energy of the marketplace. The installation displays tropical fruits along with one-of-a-kind objects that were handmade in Colombia by a group of women who have found financial independence through their talent, determination and work.

Stunning chairs, stools, fruit bowls and baskets (some shaped as fruits themselves) and bags made from metal and PVC and are displayed around sprawling tables, which are covered in seemingly countless pineapples, soursops, zapotes, bananas and curubas. The contrast between the industrial space and the jovial fruits on display is stark, but perpetuates a sense of cheeriness that’s undeniable.

“Marni Mercado de Paloquemao” is on view now through 19 April from 10AM to 7PM. This weekend— Saturday, 18 April and Sunday, 19 April—visitors are invited to enjoy smoothies and juices made on-site. The proceeds of the sale of refreshements will be donated to various charitable organizations.

Interview: David Chipperfield

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Sir David Chipperfield is decidedly one of the most globally recognized personalities in architecture and design. His award-winning work has been recognized many times over for its simplicity and clarity of vision, and recently, he was appointed as artistic director of Driade, the iconic Italian design house.

Now part of the industrial holding company ItalianCreationGroup, Driade was founded by Enrico Astori, Antonia Astori and Adelaide Acerbi in the late ’60s, and has always been synonymous with experimentation, freedom and continual research around the boundaries of good taste and design thinking.

The first act under Chipperfield’s guidance is the opening of a new showroom and store in Via Borgogna in the heart of Milan, which he designed with his architectural firm. The space is white and clean—a sharp contrast with the colorful and joyous pieces of Driade’s past and present. While attending the official opening, we had the chance to meet with Chipperfiled for an exclusive interview.

We begin by talking about the gallery-like venue. “This space is part of a project that’s sort of a relaunch or rejuvenation of Driade in another chapter,” Chipperfield explains. “The showroom is just meant to be a rather independent and fresh series of rooms that become the backdrop for the furniture. It’s more of a sort of gallery-type atmosphere, I suppose, but what we imagine will happen is that there will be installations, like there is in a museum. There will be graphic installations to present the furniture, but sometimes there will be single objects. So we chose a neutral architecture.”

Some details struck our attention, like the unusual nets that surround the staircase. “It’s just a solution to the problem to stop people falling,” says Chipperfield with a smile.

In the new showroom there’s an entire floor dedicated to the historic pieces of the company dating from 1968 to 1982, which you can find in any design museum or book about the design classics. Chipperfield underlines that “this is part of the program of what we want to talk about with the rethinking of Driade. [This represents] the heritage of Driade since 1968. So I wanted to say, instead of the rejuvenation of Driade being lots of new designers, let’s first of all reassess what Driade has achieved in the last 50 years—and remind ourselves that this is the origin of the company and also the origins of design in Italy. And what furniture was in the 1960s and what it is now. I think there’s a certain originality and freshness in those pieces, which is missing in so much contemporary furniture.”

In plotting a new course for an old company, study of the archives is a requisite foundational step. “It’s a very interesting archive and the whole idea was just to try and think of what Enrico Astori tried to experiment. He was very generous in the way he allowed people to experiment and accommodate. It’s not a company where the product is very, very defined, so there are some strange products. There are some extraordinary products, there are some ugly products. So it’s a diversity, which I think is very fundamental to the whole spirit of the company, which is sort of what I wanted to remind ourselves about and also remind everybody else. And that’s the way I’d like to proceed.”

We asked Chipperfield to suggest where young designers could look for true creativity, and his ideas are very clear. “It’s not in images, first of all. I think the problem is that common culture is obsessed with images and less with substance. I would encourage young people to be less [influenced by], or to be suspicious of, consumers as a motivating creative force. And I think what we want to do with Driade is to try and develop products and objects which of course should make sense to the market, but they’re not following the market. I think that’s what’s interesting about the early years: that those objects have a certain integrity in themselves. They’re not part of this sort of market research about what people want. I mean no one really needs a furry cube (the Pouf Blocco by Nanda Vigo), but it’s a really fascinating object.”

This aspect relates very much to the future of Driade. In Chipperfield’s words: “There’s a confusion about design now that design is trying to persuade us that we need things that we don’t actually need. We have to be very self-conscious about whether we can’t regain a little bit of the innocence that is exemplified by the early years work. At Milan Design Week we will promote new products by Enzo Mari and by Constantine Grcic, and I think in both there’s a certain sort of intensity about their work and it’s not soft. It’s strong, and clear and very much about making things, a sort of strong materiality. And I think that’s not just image, or style and product-obsessed. It’s about making things which have a certain value and integrity.”

Chipperfield’s ideas about the relationships between consumerism and design are definitive. “At least we have to think hard about what do we need. The question is: how much more do we want? The market depends on us wanting more. Growth is the only aspiration of the commercial market and there’s a contradiction because we know that we have to stop consuming more. From an economic point of view we’re told if we don’t buy more, the economy will collapse, so there’s an inner contradiction. So I think we just have to be much more cautious and more sustainable, and in terms of bringing it back to furniture, I think we just have to be a bit more careful about what we make and that those things have a lasting value. And as far as Driade is concerned, if we can make good things that people want, need: things which you would treasure as opposed to just consume, then I think there’s a clue in dealing with inevitable contradictions that exist now between our environmental concerns and this commercial system that we’ve invented.”

Does this mean that we should stop creating new objects? “There’s too much stuff and we’re buying too much, making too much, selling too much. That doesn’t mean that we don’t sell anything. People are eating too much, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t eat at all. They should just eat more carefully, less and with more discipline.”

We then exchange a few words with Stefano Core, CEO of Driade. His vision for the future of the Italian brand meets an intelligible vision of the future of Made in Italy too. Core is enthusiastic when he says, “the Italian brand is never an end in itself. In Italy, the brand always comes after the product. Italian artisans and designers do not create just beautiful designs, but real objects, using their hands. We have a great creative ability as well as construction capabilities, and the brand is always a consequence of the product, it comes after.”

When he considers the role of the objects in the market, his vision is in perfect alignment with Chipperfield’s. “A product brings an energy; it should tell a story, a bit like a person. Each of us has to have a reason why we’re in this world, and it’s the same for products. If I want to buy yet another cover for my phone, yet another pen, yet another piece of design, this object must have a reason. This reason may be the price (cheap or free) or a profound value. The products must therefore have a unique and excellent integrity. And the products made in Italy have these characteristics.”

Image courtesy of Driade