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

My new article for Cool Hunting

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

Annunci

Osservatorio Prada: observing from both sides of the camera

Osservatorio is the most recent addition to Fondazione Prada. Opened on December 21, 2016 it is located in the very heart of Milan and is meant to showcase “photography and visual languages” today.

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Curated by Francesco Zanot, the opening exhibition is “Give me yesterday”.

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Fourteen Italian and international artists are the protagonists. Their names? Melanie Bonajo, Kenta Cobayashi, Tomé Duarte, Irene Fenara, Lebohang Kganye, Vendula Knopova, Leigh Ledare, Wen Ling, Ryan McGinley, Izumi Miyazaki, Joanna Piotrowska, Greg Reynolds, Antonio Rovaldi, Maurice van Es.

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The art on display is eye-catching, as well as the sourroundings. Being on top of the historic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, from the huge windows we can observe the glass top of the ancient arcade. This unusual point of view makes Osservatorio a real observatory over the city.

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I visited the space at dusk and had a lot of fun with my Fuji X100T. But I was not alone, since lots of photographers and phonographers were all going back and forth from looking at pictures to actually taking pictures.

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And this composition of Italian panoramas by Antonio Rovaldi is probably the most instagrammed work of the entire exhibition.

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Osservatorio is an ideal place for those who really love photography, from both sides of the camera.

New York, 1990

These past Christmas holidays I’ve spent some time scanning old film slides from my archives. The first set dates back to July, 1990 and it’s about my first time there, on a family trip.

I have decided not to retouch too much, so to keep the original mood, as well as the “reddish” touch of time, that makes everything more real.

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Yes. Times Square. Sony, Panasonic, JVC, Mita: technology was already the protagonist. I was there just a few weeks ago and the most impressive billboard was Snapchat Spectacles.

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And Canon, of course.

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Some things are still around.

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But some others have completely disappearded. Like thecamel. And those guys were actually painting the billboard. By hand. With brushes. Actually this is coming back. A few weeks ago I have spotted some guys in Brooklyn making advertising graffiti for Facebook.

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Of course finding the Twin Towers on my slides was hearthbreaking, in particular a few weeks after visiting the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. How magnificent and powerful they were!

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Some touristic attractions, of course. I was 17 at the time and going to New York was a dream come true. Fortunately it was just the first of many others.

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Central Park was still considered to be kind of dangerous at the time. The mayor was David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani and gentrifucation came in 1994. Walking around the Park, even thou in full daylight, felt transgressive and adventourous.

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As real tourists, we didn’t miss the Top of the World Trade Center Observatories on the 107th and 110th floors of the South Tower.

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This is the television antenna on top of World Trade Center South Tower. A portion of this fallen giant is on display at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. That was the tallest thing in New York City and now it’s underground.

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This is a different view, from the oservation deck of the Empire State Building. A few things have changed since then.

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This image is incredibly vintage. We flew TWA and of course on our way back we left from the amazing TWA Flight Center, the terminal designed by Eero Saarinen at JFK Airport. I realize now that the deisgn of the windows created a frame around the plane, making it ready to be photographed. Way before the Instagram age.

Le Sonneur’s Love Letters

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My latest article for Cool Hunting.

“I am at your door, almost in your home. I play with these limits and I begin a gentle intrusion,” Le Sonneur tells us. Rather than the beginning of a psychological thriller, these words seem to be proof that street art can be poetic. The anonymous French artist—whose work adorns homes from Paris to Mexico—sticks fake doorbells on entryways. He even writes love letters, leaving them on random doorsteps.

The mysterious artist took time to email with us (to protect his identity) and shared photos of his latest “interventions” in Paris, exclusively for CH. On his anonymity, Le Sonneur (in French: “the ringer”) says, “I am a discreet person. I like to do things out of sight. Anonymity and imagination are central to my work. Being anonymous among these strangers whom I told the story is my natural attitude.”

Le Sonneur believes that his work is all a matter of storytelling. “Each doorbell tells you a story. Sometimes it surprises you or makes you smile. Maybe it will make you look differently at those anonymous details we usually cross without even noticing,” he says. It’s perhaps not common to find such a delicate and sweet form of street art, but Le Sonneur says he’s not alone: “Street art takes many shapes and provides passers with touches of lightness and emotion. My interventions divert archetypes of domesticity such as doorbells or mail. In a way, they are similar to ‘street hacking.’ They offer a reinterpretation of what’s ordinary and tell stories inspired by every day life.”

With letters, for every one, from the likes of Prince Charming and A Refugee to Marty McFly, Le Sonneur’s references are broad—sometimes familiar and universal, while other times seemingly niche. “Literature, poetry and film inspire me. Music and theater, too. Heroes and icons of popular culture populate my imaginary city. My interventions ignite a reflection on anonymity and indifference in the city. Your neighbor could not be who you think. Who are these strangers around us? Who is hiding in the crowd?”

“Many artists nourish my reflection. I refer in particular to the Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck and his work on ‘in-betweens’—those boundaries between spaces that become actual places, interfaces. By intervening on doorsteps with my doorbells or my love letters, it is in this same gap that I act on in order to create an episode. In their own way, the work of the ‘Situationists’ and their way to project the event in the city also inspires me, as Georges Perec and his novels ‘Life a User’s Manual’ and ‘An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris.’ I share their way of observing the life of anonymous people, how they tell and nobilitate the obvious.”

The artist has a nostalgic and almost wholesome outlook on his work. It’s almost like a personal memoir—albeit scattered over the planet. “It’s a diary of my trips and my travels; a story of my observations and my inspirations in the city,” he says. “I look for places—crowded or empty, surprising, secret and remarkable. I watch thresholds and doors. In recent weeks—from Hong Kong, Dubai or Singapore—strangers inspired by my work offered to join the project. I’m grateful and I gave it a thought. I’m trying to imagine a common score that everyone could interpret freely, to write an ‘open text’ in the manner of Umberto Eco. It would be a nice way to recount the cities we imagine and dream and have them meet.”

Venice Biennale 2015: Order and Chaos

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My latest article for Cool Hunting.

Okwui Enwezor—the curator of the 56th Venice Biennale, themed as “All the World’s Futures”—has accomplished a very difficult task in selecting artists for this year’s event. Famous names are exhibited alongside emerging artists in a colorful, bold and thought-provoking collection of pieces that will stun visitors over the next seven months. Chaos seems to prevail in many artists’ visions of the future, particularly in the Arsenale venue where spaces are narrow and rough materials are in abundance. Yet there are perspectives that revolve around order and clarity, displaying information in truly artistic ways. Like everything in the world, the contrasts are aplenty, and pieces that seem chaotic have elements of order, while those that appear meticulously organized show hints of bedlam.

Katharina Grosse’s “Untitled Trumpet, 2015” is a hectic (but obviously thought-out) display of texture and color, with acrylic on fabric, soil and aluminum debris scattered throughout the installation. Viewers are standing in front of a painting, but instead of using a paintbrush, Grosse prefers to shoot color onto her installations using air compressor and spray gun. Inside this room, the sensation is majestic yet destabilizing; there is a sense of messy playfulness that contrasts with the feeling of walking through a wreckage.

“The Key in The Hand” is a site-specific installation by Chiharu Shiota, where visitors walk around two boats and under an intricate net of red yarn from which 160,000 keys hang. Those keys—sourced from all over the world—have been collected just for this artwork and the effect is breathtaking. Natural light is filtered through the yarn, resulting in the space being permeated by hauntingly beautiful red-tinged shadows.

Quebec-based trio BGL (Jasmin Bilodeau, Sébastien Giguère and Nicolas Laverdière) surprises with “Canadassimo,” for which a grocery store, a small apartment and an artist’s studio have been recreated using recycled objects. The studio is particularly stunning; full to the brim with dripping paint cans, haphazardly stacked atop one another in a colorful rainbow of mayhem.

Vietnamese-American multimedia artist Tiffany Chung uses oil and ink to make tiny, delicate and meticulously created paintings on paper. When viewers read the works’ titles, it’s evident these pieces are more than decoration; they are infographics conveying statistics regarding refugees, wars, revolutions and invasions all over the world.

Kutluğ Ataman is a filmmaker whose productions focus on his Turkish origins and the concept of individuality. The work on display at La Biennale is a portrait of epic dimensions. Nearly 10,000 LCD panels make up “The Portrait of Sakıp Sabancı,” a Turkish business magnate and philanthropist who passed away in 2004. The panels show passport-sized portraits of people who knew Sabancı or whose life was positively affected by his presence.

Sarajevo-born, Paris-based Maja Bajevic’s work “Arts, Crafts and Facts” utilizes Bosnian embroidery techniques that are traditionally used to make carpets and blankets. Bajevic has created graphic representations of the fluctuations of stock markets, wages, corporate profits and productivity to make visually digestible points about labor, economics and globalization.

Seven highlights at World Exposition Milan 2015

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My latest article for Cool Hunting.

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: Sound Projects

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My latest article for Cool Hunting.

Sound and music play pivotal roles in our daily lives, whether it’s at home, in public places or in transit. Companies and independent designers at Milan Design Weekare aware of this—and understand what it means to include (or exclude) their thoughts and ideas on aspects relating to sound. The following three selections represented the most interesting sound products, installations and innovations we viewed in Milan during Design Week.

Master & Dynamic with Steffen Kehrle

Master & Dynamic’s headphones stand as an ideal example of thoughtful, clear sound execution. Sometimes, however, we want to share what we’re listening to with the people around us; headphones in this situation become a limitation. This common conundrum seems to have driven the concept behind a one-off installation at the Wallpaper* Handmade exhibition, for which German designer Steffen Kehrleturned a pair of Master & Dynamic headphones into loudspeakers—simply by affixing the personal item onto an iron megaphone. The basic instrument to publicly “say it loud” meets the most private way to listen to music, creating a fun contradiction of an artistic installation.

Living PET by Lorenzo Palmeri for De Vorm

While many in the industry work on achieving the best sound, one creative at Milan Design Week focused on silence. Italian designer and musician Lorenzo Palmeri, along with De Vorm, created a series of giant animals—sculptures made of felt and derived from recycled PET. Each animal of the Living PET collection absorbs harsh sounds and softens the noise in a room—with the result being sustainable design for a sustainable living. “In environmental projects acoustics is perhaps the most neglected aspect,” Palmeri tells CH. “Creating awareness around sound could greatly facilitate our lives or partially save us from the bombardment of noise and music in the background. It should also be mentioned that the silent pause is a fundamental part in music.”

Saturno Marble Music Station by Stonecycle

Newborn company Stonecycle retrieves unused or discarded pieces of Carrara marble (almost 60% of the extracted amounts in the Tuscan Alps go unused) for their products. Their design Saturno presents a high-quality sound system and complete music collection based upon the relationship between the five senses and the marble material. The resulting object is a perfect sphere, referred to as the “planet.” The planet elegantly opens to reveal a sophisticated mechanism and ultimately, the music starts to play. All of this can be controlled by smartphone or tablet but there is also an auxiliary outlet, USB, ethernet, WiFi and Bluetooth connections embedded. When closed, one can enjoy the unique transparency of the marble, since Saturno also happens to be a lamp.