Dear Shaded Viewers,
Paola Antonelli—Senior Curator of the Department of Architecture and Design at my place of work, MoMA—recently declared Milan Best City in Wallpaper* magazine’s Design Awards.
“Milanese are normally very restrained and a bit cold – and that is understood as good taste. But they can be over the top! And thankfully, they can also display a modicum of bad taste,” she told the magazine. And while Antonelli may be a bit biased (she’s originally from Milan), there have definitely been quite a few interesting changes in the city that has been slagged off as “too gray and drab” by quite a few travelers in Italy. Most notable are the city’s new skyscrapers, such as the elegantly warped Generali Tower by Zaha Hadid Architects, the Allianz Tower by Arata Isozaki and Andrea Maffei, the OMA-designed tower for Fondazione Prada and the various new buildings in the Porta Nuova.
I was in Milan last month for a quick 2 1/2-day trip to report on the Emerging Designers at MICAM Milano, but I made sure to check out a couple of places associated with Milan’s modern moment. (Having not been to Milan since 1996, I was in awe when my car from the airport whizzed by the Hadid and Isozaki towers.) At my pal Joseph Quartana’s urging, I schlepped up to the Porta Nuova in a jet-lagged daze, just as dusk was settling on the city, on my first day in Milan.
The twin Bosco Verticale (“vertical forest”) apartment buildings, designed by Stefano Boeri, take the trend of plant-covered buildings (not a new phenomenon) to the next level. Built in 2014, the residential buildings are covered with 800 trees, 4,500 shrubs and 15,000 plants. Reducing pollution and increasing biodiversity have been two of the key themes driving the popularity of Bosco Verticale and other foliage-clad buildings in cities across the world. Hmm, not sure how I’d feel about my terrace being completely taken over by overgrowth.
Porta Nuova’s Unicredit Tower and Pavilion. The Pavilion hosts everything from business meetings to exhibitions to fashion shows. I loved the contrast of the warm wood to the tower’s cold glass and metal.
Varesine-Solaria residential buildings by Arquitectonica of Miami.
No trip to Milan is complete without a visit to the astonishing Fondazione Prada, a centuries-old distillery converted into an contemporary arts center in 2015 by Rem Koolhaas’ OMA. The big news last year was OMA’s addition of this tower with six exhibition galleries, which are rectangular or trapezoid, with three different exposures. The ceiling height increases from 2.4 to 8 meters from bottom to top, thus providing diversified exhibition conditions for different types of artwork, from small paintings to large-size installations.
Fondazione Prada is located in a rather desolate area, replete with vast dusty lots and melancholic, abandoned train tracks, providing an arresting juxtaposition to the various artworks. Indeed, the tower’s windows are designed to make the landscape an important component of the exhibitions. Sure, Jeff Koons Tulips are quite lovely, but for certain viewers who have that seen-it-all jadedness associated with Koons’ work (that would be me via my exploits in NYC’s Soho art world of the ’90s), the lay of the land outside transformed my feelings about the piece into a totally new and satisfying experience. Take that, boring white gallery walls!
I inserted myself into the Sanguine. Luc Tuymans on Baroque exhibition.
A visit to the grim bathrooms made me feel like I was about to be incarcerated…that feeling got worse when I couldn’t open the door to the stall to leave.
Fondazione Prada’s cafe, Bare Luce, was famously designed by Wes Anderson. I didn’t take enough photos of the interior, so you’ll have to go and see it for yourself!
Bar Luce’s Italian pinball machines and jukebox are from the 1950s.
Nino Rota, Ennio Morricone, Sophia Loren….the selection seemed tailor-made just for me.
At night, Milan’s mysterious design statements come to life, like this urban flora.
Thanks for reading.