Text: Sandeep Khosla
Devouring the lavish buffet of design events, installations, products and innovations, Sandeep Khosla traipses through Milan as the city welcomes hordes of enthusiasts from the world over to its eponymous design week. Here is the exclusive list for mondo*arc india of some of his most memorable takeaways.
A visit to Design week in Milan is invigorating every year. With so much happening in that April week, I always have to find the right balance between spending my time at the Salone del Mobile exhibits at the Rho Fiera Milano complex, the Fuorisalone events happening in the exciting design districts of Brera, Tortona and Vie5 within the city, and the numerous installations dotting old palazzos, piazzas and galleries in Milan. Within the halls of Rho Fiera, I also make it a point to visit Salone Satellite, an annual celebration of design talent under the age of 35, where young designers, many straight out of school show prototypes of products they are hoping to launch into the market. Here is a round-up of what caught my eye – my top picks of Salone Del Mobile, Salone Satellite and Fuorisalone 2018.
SALONE DEL MOBILE @ RHO FIERA
MANILA OUTDOOR ARMCHAIR
Paola Navone for Baxter
The breadth of prolific designer Paola Navone’s work never ceases to amaze me. She is one of my favourite designers, and her 2018 collaboration with one of my favourite Italian brands, Baxter was expectedly delightful. In the Manila Outdoor armchair, Navone has minimized materials to enhance the decorative power of her design; the chair is stylized with an exotic silhouette, but in materiality is very simple and minimal. She has handpicked a few natural and contrasting elements – cane from Manila, oxidized copper for the structure and leather covered technical rope for the hand weave. A special tanning process and Indian ink dye were used to increase the leather’s colour-fastness to the light.
Neri & Hu for GAN Rugs
Designers Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu of the famed Shanghai-based practice Neri & Hu relook at the typical sofa typology, which is usually unwieldy and cumbersome. Instead, they break it apart into singular modules that can be put together in flexible ways. The back component takes inspiration from old textile looms while paying tribute to GAN’s strength as a textile brand. The vertical loom-like structure allows handmade fabrics to be hung as a backdrop, while an elastic woven strap serves as a support for the moveable back cushions. The seat is also composed of separate cushions as well as a small wooden surface, which can act as a side table, each interchangeable for providing various configurations. The geometric indigo colour palette of the fabric is striking and inspired the name ‘Lan’, which means blue in Mandarin.
EVENTS AND INSTALLATIONS @ FUORISALONE
MEDIAN PENDANT LAMP & TALISMAN LOOP SCONCE
I love work that has a narrative quality to it and Brooklyn based Apparatus’ new range of lighting and objects displayed in a charming bye-lane at Vie 5, Milan’s newest design district had me mesmerized. Creative Director Gabriel Hendifar cleverly retraces his mid-eastern origins by referencing jewellery and accessories from the past. The origins of the Act III collection is an intricate box with rich inlay in the Khatam style that his grandmother brought from Iran to the US as a political refugee in 1979. I was particularly impressed by the Median pendant lamps – alabaster planes intersected by sensuous fluted brass forms. The Talisman loop sconce looks like a piece of finely crafted jewellery. It references details found in statues in the ancient city of Persepolis and is made of semi-precious stone beads pierced by finely fluted pins affixed to a leather-bound brass structure. I loved the tactile nature of these pieces, the sumptuous materiality and the sense of nostalgia and seduction that these objects bring while still being futuristic.
Robert Stadler for Vitra
I found this exhibition by Vitra in La Pelota, a former sports hall in Milan’s Brera district, thought-provoking. Austrian designer Robert Stadler focuses on the social function of furniture in today’s society by placing current Vitra products alongside icons, prototypes, rejects and future visions. The exhibit makes us rethink the typical categorizations associated with certain typologies of furniture and how we may use and choose furniture in our digital age. Stadler creates a film set like display of Vitra’s iconic, forgotten and new characters, staying away from grouping them according to the typology of use or their historical context. He instead clusters them according to their perceived personality traits and behavioural patterns in contemporary society. Each piece of furniture is seen in this exhibit as a personality or portrait grouped into nine different tribes in a fun and expressive way.
3D PRINTED HOUSE
CLS Architetti & Arup
Architecture studio CLS Architetti and engineering firm Arup used a portable robot to 3D Print a concrete house in Piazza Cesare Beccaria. Printed on site, the 100-square-metre house was printed in 35 hours! The house features textured curved walls, a stylish living area, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom and even a roof garden. The concrete mix was squeezed through the robot’s nozzle like toothpaste from a tube, and each section of wall was built from the ground-up in layers. The house interiors were surprisingly stylish and evoked a sense of nostalgia while still reminding me of the revolutionary technology used in its construction. The house has brought about a healthy debate about sustainability, affordability, speed in construction and its use for disaster zones as well as for the housing crisis. There is a video on YouTube showing the construction process, which is a fascinating watch. I was particularly intrigued to see that the house was constructed on an existing plaza without any foundations.
HERMES EXHIBIT AT MUSEO PERMANENTE
Colourful Instagram feeds drew me to Museo Permanente, where French luxury fashion house Hermes had created seven monolithic and monochrome houses clad in Moroccan zellige, small square tiles made of glazed earthenware. This was my most immersive installation experience at Salone this year. From the moment I walked, in I felt that I had entered a beautiful modernist painting while recalling the power of the forms and colour palette of Mexican modernists Luis Barragan and Ricardo Legorreta.
Hermes presented their new line of objects, furnishings, fabrics and wallpapers within the colourful tile clad chambers conceived by architect Charlotte Macaux Perelman and Alex Fabry. The architectural compositions of the 7 chambers, the colour scheme and the display within were really a visual treat.
MDRDV & Ivan Navarro
In the heart of the Brera Design District, Dutch firm MDRDV’s installation transforms Bulgari’s iconic Serpenti bracelet into a spatial experience. Likened to a sort of bejewelled honeycomb, the vault-like interior demonstrates the vast possibilities of material combinations. Paired with a wall of mirrors, the space is dazzling and creates an infinite vault of beautiful and tactile detail. In a mind-boggling labyrinth that Chilean artist Ivan Navarro created in the same exhibit, the black and white pattern inspired by Bulgari’s B.zero 1 collection is transferred to the walls, ceilings, and floors. Through a pathway illuminated by the rules of design according to Bulgari, the installation takes visitors on a journey to ‘follow the rules, break the conventions, capture the unexpected, and reinvent the rules’.
SALONE SATELLITE @ RHO FIERA
The Sila lamp caught my eye due to its kinetic, and feathery spatial quality. Hungarian designer Zsuzsanna Hovarth has experimented with laser cutting techniques on thin flat pieces of birch plywood to create a warm suspension light, which she refers to as ‘magical’ and ‘ghostly’. It is easy to see why – the delicate repetitive hair-like strands of birch move gently when someone passes by and the light source, a flexible OLED lamp is cleverly fused into the structure, making it almost invisible. I noticed two imperceptible strings on top of the lamp, which could be lowered or made more taught, creating variations of the original shape through the principle of gravity. The lamp is innovative in technique, ethereal in its presence, yet emits a soft and cosy glow for quiet corners.
SOMA LEATHER CHAIR
I was interested to hear that Florestan Schuberth and Janis Fromm, who refer to themselves as Studio Marfa, embarked on the Soma Chair as a college project while at the University of Hamburg. They have since worked on the prototype and the rigour of processes to make it ready for mass production.
The classic lounge chair has been reinterpreted by the duo into a design that is honest in shape and material, strong in its appearance but reduced in substance. A continuous tubular stainless steel frame borders the chair and a single layer of natural and tanned leather is stretched, shaped, and hand stitched onto it. The seat is cantilevered from the cast aluminium base, giving the chair a lightweight, hovering feel.
KUTLEH VASES SERIES
In Salone Satellite, I came across these beautifully sculpted vases made of layers of discarded or surplus stone used in construction sites. The project is the brainchild of Architect Rula Yaghmour and Jordan based stone fabricators A.W. Yasin and Sons. Kutleh literally means ‘block’ in Arabic and the designer has developed a technique of bonding and pressing layers of waste marble sourced locally from Jordan and Palestine into blocks of a new medium altogether. She has then sculpted these blocks into sensuous objects, even a chair. I was quite excited to see the series of organic shaped Kutleh vases, which so aesthetically show the juxtaposition, variety and beauty of the different stones of the region. The real triumph of this project, however, is not these objects alone, but the offering of a new material altogether which other artists, designers and sculptors can use as they please.
I got a chance to interact with young Japanese designer Yuri Okitsu, who had created a light installation called Focus out of different sizes of acrylic lenses that he had suspended like mobiles. The lenses behave differently during the day and night. In the day they capture the ambient light within the interior space and diffuse it in interesting ways. These flat and lightweight lenses also frame the surrounding scenery in every direction, creating multiple floating worlds. After dark, when the surrounding ambient light is weak, LED lighting devices embedded within their periphery illuminate and frame the scenery beyond the lenses. What I liked most was that the designer had managed to construct an ever-changing perception of space from day to night. These spatial objects also rotate gently in response to natural airflow and people’s movement, transforming into multiple configurations.