Each design week tends to have a few constants: usually a trade show bringing together suppliers from around the world; a series of talks, panels and workshops on topical design issues by leading designers, manufacturers, researchers and critics; and a whole lot of designs exploring every material, function and aesthetic you could think of.
Milan Design Week includes Salone del Mobile, the large furniture fair around which the rest of the week has grown, located in the Fiera Milano exhibition centre located just outside the city.
Outside this fair is Fuorisalone, which spreads across the city through different design districts – opening the doors to usually hidden buildings and spaces for free-to-access design exhibitions, workshops and an aperitivo or two for industry and public alike.
We spent some time in Milan this year exploring the design on offer, where experiments by students and big-budget companies, speculative projects and celebrations of past masters – as well as a few multidisciplinary collaborations that don’t quite land – all jostle for attention in the city.
Venues weird and wonderful
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Alcova at Ex-Macello
Curated by Joseph Grima and Valentina Ciuffi, Alcova is a platform dedicated to showcasing design talent, which moves each year to a new location in the city.
This year it takes place in Ex-Macello, a 170,000 sq m former abattoir in the Porta Vittoria district. 15 years after closing, its semi-dilapidated but monumental buildings will soon be redeveloped into carbon-negative social housing, a campus for the European Institute of Design and a centre for global sustainability.
Projects on show in the meantime include three-year experimental basketry project, Basketclub. Founded in 2020 by designers Jamie Wolfond and Adrianus Kundert. The Instagram-based initiative grew into a collective of designers and artists using unconventional materials and traditional techniques.
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Habitarematerials is a materials library featuring 14 material brands from Finland. Visitors can arrange the materials into their own selection, drawing from both established brands and smaller artisanal makers. The curators have also partnered with Finland’s Aalto University to showcase experimental material studies in wood, cellulose fibre, ceramics, and renewable material lignin.
Meanwhile a multi-sensory exhibition Rhythms, by Leolux and Studio Truly Truly, sees a “respiring” set interact with furniture; the room’s scent comes from the kiosk inside the space where visitors can watch Dutch Stroopwafels being made – and take one away to eat themselves.
GUBI at Bagni Misteriosi
Furniture brand GUBI has taken over Milan’s Bagni Misteriosi, Milan’s “mysterious” public baths in Porto Romana, as the space is opened to the design week for the first time.
As well as using the idyllic setting to show its new al fresco furniture collections, GUBI is also presenting the TEN exhibition with curator and design critic Marco Sammicheli, which tasked designers to reinterpret Gam Fratesi’s Beetle chair – itself a Salone debut ten years ago. The designers and artists selected from across the world include furniture designer Adam Nathaniel Furman and sound designer Painé Cuadrelli.
An exploration of process
Casa Blond, Brera District
Blond’s founder and creative director James Melia explains that the studio was frustrated about a sense that “we had a particular style”, but felt its process was applicable to a wider range of styles and outputs – including furniture, which Melia initially trained in. In the setting of its “Casa Blond”, the studio presents three different projects: the Peel chair, inspired by peeling bark, with a strong “Marcel Breuer-inspired” side profile, shaped by a specialised tool used inside a hydraulic press; a collaboration with electrification startup Impulse, working on the industrial design and identity for its more sustainable induction hob offering; and in the final room, Blond’s refillable candle design for Tesoro.
Focusing in on process itself, one room has a table displaying a variety of intriguing objects. Melia explains that these represent the studio’s internal campaign against relying on digital inspiration, for which it tasks its designers with bringing an object sourced offline to a monthly show-and-tell. Replicating the studio’s own process, visitors are invited to design from these objects, with the best idea of each day then modelled by a 3D printer in the space.
Ikea at Padiglione Visconti
Ikea has taken over a former factory at Padiglione Visconti as it celebrates its 80th anniversary and looks forward to the next 80 years.
Within the space there is an exhibition of archive pieces from the Ikea museum; a bed-filled cinema space previews the behind-the-scenes footage from working with Ikea’s first artist in residence, photographer Annie Leibowitz; and a large-scale installation looking to the future, divided into the four elements of earth, water, air and fire and showing new designs such as a solar-powered lamp designed in collaboration with Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson.
Within Salone’s halls
Now in its 61st year, the furniture fair at the heart of Milan Design Week is attempting to make something fundamentally unsustainable – involving the transportation of thousands of products overseas, temporary displays and all the single-use materials around such an event – into something considerably more so, as measured by the ISO 20121 certification for sustainable events management it hopes to achieve this year.
But beyond the approximately 2000 exhibitors at Salone del Mobile, the exhibition halls are also host to a number of special events.
Salone Satellite is an annual award for emerging designers, presented during the fair. The winning design by Japanese designer Honoka saw reclaimed Tatami mats combined with 3D printing for the Tatami Refab collection, inspired by the declining use of Tatami in Japanes interiors today.
In several of the exhibition halls this year is Euroluce, the biennial lighting design exhibition. This year’s was curated by Formafantasma around the concept “City of lights”.
The design duo had also incorporated “cameos” – mini exhibits between the stands curated by Beppe Finessi, such as one revisiting Gae Aulenti’s lighting designs, or another of new works using scrap materials by Italian designer Duccio Maria Gambi. Formafantasma also created the Aurore arena space for talks and a design bookshop curated by book publisher Corraini.
Fashion brands go interdisciplinary
There are numerous fashion collaborations at this year’s Milan Design Week – ranging from Gaetano Pesce’s grotto-like installation Vieni a Vedere in Bottega Veneta’s Montenapoleone store, to the Prada Frame symposium curated by Formafantasma, which invited those including the Design Museum, London’s Justin McGuirk, designers Dunne and Raby and anthropologist Tim Ingold to speak over three days.
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Expanding its exploration of craft into the furniture sector, Loewe’s seventh Milan Design Week exhibition presented a series of chair designs in the courtyard of the Palazzo Isimbardi. Stick and paper loom chairs are adapted by artisans in exciting ways using materials and techniques both familiar and alien to Loewe’s usual repertoire.
At the Norwegian Presence exhibition in Brera, showcasing a curated selection of designs from Norwegian designers, Lars Beller Fjetland and leading Norwegian renewable energy specialist Hydro debut an aluminium bench inspired by… pasta. Using 90 % recycled and 100% recyclable aluminium, Bello! was developed through experiments in aluminium extrusion techniques. Its name – while sounding appropriately Italian for its Milan debut – is a portmanteau of its creators names.
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One of interventions by technology brands was the exhibition Shaped by Water by Google Design. Its team was led by Google vice president of hardware design Ivy Ross, partnering with American artist Lachlan Turczan for an exhibition exploring the substance that has “inspired many of the worl’ds most pioneering writers, artists, designers, philosophers, poets, engineers, scientists and sages”, according to the team.
Located at Garage 21 on Via Archimede, Turczan’s textured reflective bowls are filled with water. In one room these hum in reaction to visitors’ presence, while in a second space, seating offers a chance to sit and relax while music creates choreographed wave patterns in the water.