Milan Design Week is the annual design festival de rigueur on planet Earth! It is always the time of year to show off design, celebrate design, and question design. In recent years it has also been a design platform where automotive firms can make a more ‘artistic’ statement about their brand and new cars. This year there were the most by far with Citroen, Fiat, Alfa, Mercedes, BMW, Alcantara, Nissan, Audi and Mini all present.
The show is also a time to draw some conclusions about where design is taking us but by the shear number of objects, concepts, installations, and even transportation solutions on display it was impossible to define a movement per se. However, to paraphrase Chef Gusteau in Disney’s movie Ratatouille, it seems that one trend is evident… “Anyone Can Design”! Through reality TV and Internet individuals around the world, regardless of location or culture, have taken on the challenges of cooking gourmet meals once reserved to the very elite of the Masters. Similarly, the democratisation of skill and understanding has seeped into the design world. At the Salone del Mobile, a.k.a. Milan Design Week, ideas flourished, materials contradicted processes, students challenged ‘Masters’, and the public became design critics! Was it all good design? No, but as ever there were moments of utter brilliance and wonderment and as Anton Ego, Chef Gusteau’s nemesis, finds out after tasting the ratatouille cooked by a rat that brings his world to a halt he admits that yes…
Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he (Gusteau) meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.
Lets cover the transportation side of things first. Milan is a very tricky city with a very insular system of narrow roads that if you look from above seems to create a concentric maze of madness. Add to this limited transportation and 30,000 plus extra visitors a day and getting around can become a nightmare. During design week companies provide alternative modes of transportation like Cosmit, the organisers of the design fair in Rho, provided free human powered rickshaws, Brera Design District tested out electric two seaters, and Dedon supported the bike-around-town principle.
“Journalists, designers, and celebrities” were welcomed at Citroen’s city light lounge to enjoy their courtesy DS3 plus driver to move between events during the week. Their stand named ‘Exposure’ featured a six meter high lampshade by Fabio Rotella. Fiat commissioned Fabio Novembre to design the Abarth Chair which was inspired by the original car’s high performance and innovative use of light materials. A newcomer to the design scene in Milan was Audi, and it showed. Moritz Waldemeyer collaborated with Audi to create Lucid Flux, a lighting installation of 2000 LEDs highlighting the A1 and A8 models. The LEDs were mounted on polycarbonate strips mimicking the jets of air that flow over the form of a car during a wind-tunnel test. While conceptually this might have been a good idea the execution was crude and bulky, not light and fleeting as it was intended. The use of Ermenegildo Zegna’s space in the famous ZonaTortona was set up like any car show stand, clearly some lessons about the art of design installation need to be learned before returning next year.
During the week Milan is divided between the Salone (the fair) itself and the Fuorisalone (outside the fair) events. The Salone is held at the Rho Exhibition Hall and features around 1,400 exhibitors manufacturing furniture and kitchens from countries from all over the globe. Of particular fascination, however, is the Salone Satellite, an offsite event that invites individuals or groups of young designers to bid for a space to show their own designs. It is always here that conventions are challenged. Where designers such as Tatsuo Yamamoto can explore the meaning of cheese, yes the meaning of cheese, mozzarella cheese! The result…a simply delicious interpretation of the soft and traditional Italian ingredient with a touch of Japanese minimalism brought to life by stretching white fabric over bent steel. Genius. Others seek austerity and flexibility in materials such as Ran Amitai from Israel and his ‘nature of material’ stools bent from flat metal panels with ‘natural folds’ and Plicio from Austria with their flat foldable inside out chair…literally you can pick it up fold it on one side or the other for different colour effects. The Salone Satellite is always an area for open discussion about materials and issues such as the environment. While ‘green design’ was not at the forefront this year the trend toward using natural cues as imagery and natural materials for structure and longevity is still strong. If you are in need of alternative materials the ever in-the-know Material Connexion is the answer, ever present and pushing the envelope of potential.
Elsewhere is the city the Fuorisalone events take on a life of their own. If you survive the nightlife then you will be lucky if you manage to hit all the events programmed during the short week. It certainly is a challenge to represent every one of them in this article. What we liked the most was designers looking to nature’s patterns for inspiration and adoration. Tom Dixon’s factory of workers were assembling ‘etch’ lamps, which are made by an industrial process typically used in producing intricate electronic products. The tiny holes filter the light creating an atmospheric luminosity and shine due to reflection on the brass or stainless steel. At Ten Small Atlases, which showcased the work of 10 designers who have taken part in the annual IN Residence workshops in Torino, Anke Weiss presented a structure constructed from 150 bonsai tree trunks cut and assembled by hand. The result is a mesmerising, warm, and desirable sculpture-like object that evokes as many ideas about design there are tree trunks!
Milan Design Week is untouchable in that no where in the world can you find such freedom in design. Even the big companies can dare to dream and share those dreams without the chairman of the board vetoing the concept. The goal is blue sky thinking all the way and if you have time please enjoy the video links below to expand your mind about design
Canon Neoreal ‘Prism Liquid’ by Akihisa Hirata and Kyota Takahashi an installation contrasting static and dynamic, the concrete and dynamic, input and output as they exist in one world.
Toshiba LED Lighting ‘Luceste’ luce(light) + celeste (sky) was an installation created by Japanese architect Makoto Tanijiri of Suppose Design Office. It explores the beauty of light through an interactive veil of swirling mist (clouds) with colour. Magical!
Sony debuted at the Milan Design Week this year and in partnership with Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby presented ‘Contemplating Monolithic Design’ which explore the integration of electronics within furniture and architectural design.
Tokujin Yoshioka created ‘the Invisibles’ for Kartell, a collection of transparent furniture that he showed at the Milan Design Week hidden in a forest of plastic snowflakes.
For a quick but intense look at the vast amount of creativity that takes over Milan for a week check out this clip by Modeyes, keep your eyes peeled! And finally take a look at the design energy that comes out of the Salone Satellite 2010.