Pictures from the edge – the new design district - Monocolumn | Monocle


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16 April 2010

Day three of Milan’s Salone coincided with the cloud of Icelandic volcanic ash descending on northern Europe and wreaking havoc with air traffic. Visitors intent on seeing everything new in design were undeterred at first but were soon scrambling to find hotel rooms in a city packed to capacity. Suddenly all the sofas and beds they had been admiring over the past few days seemed less like luxury purchases and more like short-on-supply necessities. Would B&B Italia mind if they spent the night in their window? But there was still plenty of excitement to be found away from the fairground in the city’s showrooms and the new design district, Lambrate.


Throughout the city, showrooms of firms who had stayed away from the hubbub of the Fiera were packed. Companies looked back to the essence of their brands, in turn re-evaluating what they stood for. “We have gone back to our old values and updated them. We have teamed up with Carlo Colombo and Naoto Fukasawa for the first time to give us a reinterpretation of what we are,” said Corrado Gattoni of De Padova. The two designers have created new sofas for the company. Knoll also referenced its archive in a new lounge chair by Jehs&Laub – a striking design with a nod to the firm’s mid-century modernist pioneers Eero Saarinen and Harry Bertoia. Knoll’s Justin Pratt said, “I think this is the most important thing we’ve done in the last 10 years.”

Triennale and the University of Milan 

Compared with last year’s offering, the Triennale was disappointing. A selection of Taiwanese designers for example, sounded interesting but was sadly more derivative than innovative – but a five-minute taxi-ride away, the gardens of the University of Milan were more inspiring. The lawns were filled with over-sized installations by architects including Kengo Kuma and John Pawson, who built a house out of Lithoverde, a material made from stone scraps developed with leading stone manufacturer Salvatori. 


A new design district in the north east of the city was a welcome respite from Zona Tortona’s malaise. “We had to create a new zone as designers didn’t want to exhibit in Tortona any more – it was becoming too commercial and too expensive,” said Margriet Vollenberg, one of two Dutch women behind the ambitious project. The area’s carefully curated mix of young designers in industrial spaces – Lambrate used to be a key industrial area after the war – was a breath of fresh air in a Salone that has become saturated with big brands that are unrelated to design, including car companies and even make-up brands. Designers who have left Tortona for Lambrate included Maarten Baas, Tord Boontje and the students of the Royal College of Art.

An impressive show by the graduates of Design Academy Eindhoven – curated by designer llse Crawford – had real intellectual edge. Each graduate’s piece was titled with a question, prompting the viewer to engage with the show. A project titled “How can we use oral knowledge in our design?” by Korean Jihyun Ryou, was a kitchen installation that explored food preservation based on her grandmother’s tales of carrots dipped in sand and eggs in water to keep them fresh. “People think design is always about results and about the aesthetics. We wanted to focus on the process of getting to the final result and the process always starts with a question,” said Anne Mieke Eggenkamp, chairwoman of the acclaimed university.

Vollenberg was more than happy with Lambrate’s debut. “We opened the area yesterday and we were so happy. From 10.00 until 22.00 it was packed and everyone was saying it had a good buzz,” she said. Zona Tortona needs to reassess its values and focus less on teaming up with big-name sponsors and more on providing the key design firms in the area such as Poltrona Frau with neighbouring exhibitors worthy of their weight. 


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