Milan Design Week 2016: interview with Sou Fujimoto

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Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto (perhaps best-known for his Serpentine Gallery Pavilion) joined forces with Swedish fashion retailer COS for Salone de Mobileduring this year’s Milan Design Week 2016. The result is quite spectacular. The installation “Forest of Light” is a fascinating and immersive exploration of light and perspective. In a completely dark space, towering cones of light seem to respond magically to the presence of people in attendance. Sounds, mirrors and a subtle fog unite to create an imaginary forest which is nothing short of a feast for the senses. After spending time in the space, we met with Fujimoto and talked about how the installation was born, its meaning and the technology behind it.

“We were requested by COS to interpret the deep philosophy of the brand,” Fujimoto tells us. “We had to give the shape of an experience to that, to translate it into a space. That was, of course, a big challenge because we are architects and they are fashion. In a sense it all relates to our daily life—to human behavior and interactions. Both fashion and architecture are about sharing something, but at the same time they’re quite far, since materials are different, softness is different, heaviness is different.” In order to create a through-line between architecture and fashion, Fujimoto decided on light, “Light is essential for architecture and using light as a material is quite a beautiful challenge, I think. At the same time, a spotlight is a fashion thing. Light as a material is quite simple, but it helps us with creating an interesting complexity.”

After deciding on light as a material, the installation began to take form as a forest—thanks to Fujimoto’s memories and the city of Tokyo. He says, while it relates to his childhood self playing in a forest literally, the Japanese capital also has the sense of being one. He explains, “Tokyo is artificial, but the feeling is like a forest in a sense—an artificial forest, where you can feel really cozy, since you are surrounded by such small artificial pieces. Through that kind of thinking, of forest and light, we connected the elements and we created the experience.”

Technology, of course, is a key (albeit invisible) factor in the installation, as sensors placed around the space mean that visitors can change the installation in various ways. Depending on where one stands, the space gets lighter or darker; the more people present, the more changes. The same goes for the sounds: there is a constant soundtrack of real forest sounds, but when a sensor picks up movement in the space, “artificial sounds react together with the change of the brightness.” The outcome is enchanting, and because it changes constantly, entirely enthralling.

Fujimoto tells us, ultimately, the installation was intended to surprise and intrigue visitors. It was a subtle experience not overly tied to a brand, but rather was about creating a special experience. “We’ve tried to create an unexpected feeling,” he says. “You feel like your movement is causing something, but you do not precisely understand what it is.”

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Factory Visit: Cotonificio Albini

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My latest article for Cool Hunting.

Visiting the Albini Group—a glorious Italian enterprise that specializes in fabrics for shirting—is an experience of contrast. It’s a facility that feels futuristic, while remaining in the tradition of its deep history. It’s a busy, mechanical factory located in the picturesque Italian town of Albino—in a valley surrounded by the Alps. Founded in 1876 by Zaffiro Borgomanero, today Albini is run by the fifth generation of the original family, and we witnessed the production of fabrics that will become sophisticated, quality shirts sold all over the world.

Every year Albini Group produces an enormous 20,000 new fabrics and over 4,000 exclusive variations conceived for specific clients (these are developed by 30 textile designers). The list of international clients is incredibly long and—in some cases—strictly confidential. As well as working with some of the most talented independent tailors around the world, they provide fabrics to the likes of Burberry, Etro, Brioni, Armani, Zegna and more.

While production is a quintessential, time-honored Italian mix of machines and handmade processes, Albini is a multinational company. In addition to five factories in Italy, they own sites in Egypt and the Czech Republic. There’s a balance of tradition production and future-forward technology: some phases are completely automated (including the coloring, weaving and warehouse organization) while others are entirely manual.

Albini Group’s president Silvio Albini tells CH, “After many years of hard work, today we can finally say that our company controls the entire production—from the cotton seed to finishings. In this long process we can control the most intrinsic qualities of our product. We have also reached a complete traceability and we know where every meter of our fabric was made.” While showing us each single step of the production process, the staff reveal an authentic enthusiasm and a rare generosity—along with true pride for their part played in the creation of such quality products.

While fabrics may be flat, they’re not two-dimensional. Weaving is not just about wrapping and wefting, but if the technology is sufficiently advanced the woven fabric can come out of the machines in unlimited tridimensional variations. Optical effects and peculiar shapes can be created using different techniques, threads, colors and materials. (In fact, there can be over 16,000 threads in one single square meter of fabric.) Some fabrics are so precious that they are called “diamonds,” but unlike a diamond, they are soft. Touch is—of course—one of the most important factors in shirting. It differs when fabrics are single- or double-ply. In the second case, two separate threads are rolled up together so that they’re more resistant and colors become more shiny and long-lasting. You can tell the difference when caressing the fabrics. Other important processes include the various washing steps and mechanical procedures aimed at fixing colors. Finally, after these last stages, the fabric is ready to be quality-controlled, before heading off to become a shirt.

When wandering through Albini, it’s the contrast between the sci-fi-esque plant and the archive room that embodies what they stand for most. Walls of ancient books and catalogues with the fabrics glued inside (which date back to 1796) are still in usable condition, lovingly preserved, with colors so bright they seem to have been produced mere minutes before.

Cocktails Connected with SodaStream MIX

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Can a home beverage machine be a smart device? SodaStream certainly thinks so and their answer is the MIX. At Milan Design Week 2015, SodaStream recently unveiled their new connected device that that can be controlled via smartphone and runs with its own dedicated software.

Designed by Yves Béhar, this instrument is compact and refined. A beautiful, high-quality touchscreen is used to control the machine and showcases a series of recipes for cocktails and soft drinks. The connection to the internet allows for the easy uploading and sharing of new recipes. Simply gather the necessary ingredients, pour them into the SodaStream bottle, tap the screen and your beverage is on its way—bubbles included.

The development team at SodaStream spent two years researching for the MIX and found that different sized bubbles were needed to get the best taste out of different spirits. “In this product we made the bubbles much smaller and more refined,” says Chief Innovation and Design Officer Yaron Kopel, “A different level of carbonation suits a different beverage.” According to Kopel, the CO2 level is as important of an ingredient as any other—add too much or too little and the alcohol notes will overwhelm the taste.

The SodaStream MIX is slated to hit the market in 2016 with pricing information coming soon.

Drums and drones

L’ultima sfilata di Marras, quella per la collezione uomo PE2015, ha dimostrato come le dicotomie vecchio/nuovo, tradizione/innovazione, digitale/analogico, troppo abusate da giornalisti e uffici stampa senza idee, oramai non abbiano più alcun senso.

Il lavoro di Marras è sempre un tutt’uno, che fonde e trasforma tamburi e droni, maglie sportive e tessuti d’alta sartoria, popolo del circus of fashion e vecchiette alla finestra, sport e birra, Sardegna e Africa, Gigi Riva e Brasile. Tutto mirabilmente accorpato, amalgamato, ridotto, esattamente come accade in cucina: quando mangi un buon piatto non riesci a distinguere gli ingredienti, ma scopri sapori nuovi; non riesci ad analizzare il percorso, ma vuoi comunque godere al massimo di quell’attimo di estasi.

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Luce fredda, interazione calda

Salone del Mobile 2014, insieme Fuorisalone, sottoinsieme Zona Tortona, sottoinsieme proprio Superstudio Più: qui si trovava Art-Interaction, una piccola installazione che ha presentato un paio di interessanti progetti di design reattivo.

I ragazzi di [archiattack]studio hanno pensato di trasformare in oggetto il fascio di luce di un faretto da concerto. Ecco come nasce cuHop, una lampada a forma di cuopp’ (evocazione partenopea geniuslocale) prodotta da Slide. La luce cambiava e si trasformava con la musica, ma anche con il canto e le parole dei visitatori che avevano a disposizione un microfono.

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Il secondo progetto era “8 minutes” di Roberto Fazio, che ha scelto di collegare la sua installazione luminosa con il satellite GOES 15 del NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center, che si trova a circa 36.000 chilometri da Milano. I led nello scantinato del Superstudio Più reagivano all’attività del Sole, ricreando un’esplosione fredda ed emozionante.

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Tempo, luce, movimento

Visto che ormai siamo già da un po’ #dopoilsalone e idee/oggetti/prodotti/progetti che abbiamo visto stanno sedimentando nella nostra memoria, è arrivato il momento di riguardare i nostri album digitali, rivivere qualche emozione, valutare cosa abbia funzionato e cosa no al Salone del Mobile.

Uno dei ricordi più belli è sicuramente legato a Light is Time, l’emozionante installazione di Citizen alla Triennale. Una nuvola di pulviscolo dorato accoglieva i visitatori in una bolla di spazio nero. Avvicinandosi alle particelle, si scopriva che erano milioni e milioni di meccanismi di orologi, sospesi nell’aria grazie a lunghi fili trasparenti. Al centro poi si scoprivano delle microscopiche teche contenti altri meccanismi, canfora più piccoli, da osservare con lenti da orologiaio. Anche la colonna sonora era di qualità assoluta, al punto che si è meritata uno dei due Milano Design Award conquistati (assieme a Best Impact, of course).

Macro e micro, sospensione del tempo, luce nel nero, spazio e terra, movimento e immobilità: le sensazioni si palleggiavano tra estremi opposti, rendendo l’esperienza memorabile, facile da instagrammare e difficile da dimenticare.

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Amori da discarica

Qualche tempo fa mi sono fermato a riflettere sull’assurdità del fatto che spesso porto i rifiuti in Montenapoleone. Parlo delle capsule Nespresso che, grazie al progetto Ecolaboration, possono essere restituite al punto vendita per garantirne un corretto smaltimento (io vado in via Verri o in San Babila). E oramai mi trovo a non gettare più una sola capsula nella raccolta indifferenziata.

I rifiuti oggi sono così importanti che ci preoccupiamo di indicare una giusta e corretta strada anche quando siamo costretti a separarcene. E a volte non vorremmo nemmeno allontanarci da loro.

Ce lo dimostra anche un nuovo progetto che – tra design e  arte – crea teneri, dolci, affettuosi rifiuti. Sono i robottini di Massimo Sirelli, realizzati per il progetto Adotta un Robot, “la prima casa adozioni di robot da compagnia al mondo”, presentato durante il Salone del Mobile di Milano alla Mediateca Santa Teresa.

L’idea è semplice e porta a riflettere sull’importanza di recuperare materiali di scarto. Infatti Massimo recupera vecchie latte, lattine, oggetti della memoria, che poi assembla a formare dei robot di varie dimensioni. Andando sul sito del progetto si può scegliere un piccolo da adottare. Ma attenzione, non è sufficiente “acquistarli”, si deve motivare la richiesta, pattuire una cifra per l’adozione e ci si deve impegnare a tenere costantemente aggiornata la community sullo stato di salute e benessere dell’esserino meccanico.

Come non innamorarsi della spazzatura?