A walk through Milan Design Week 2017

“We are a culture that is ashamed of masterpieces such as Pinocchio, to the point where we have banished the story from schools”, says Silvana Annicchiarico, director of Triennale Design Museum in Milan, in the opening comments to the children’s design exhibition that was opened in honour of the design week held in the city on April 2017. “That’s why the exhibition is attempting to present the other side of life in Italy”, she adds, “of those who not only vividly remember that they were once children, but also that they devoted, and still devote thought, concern, attention, and love to their inner child”.

The exhibition, which deals with the different ways in which designers work whilst looking at children, features thousands of historical exhibits and contemporary designs side by side that have been divided into different categories: furniture, games, architecture, animation, signage, teaching methods, and more. At the exhibition, you can find an entire wall of old wooden rocking horses alongside a transparent plastic horse-shaped swing designed by Studio Nendo for the design brand Kartell last year; or a glass vitrine with hundreds of Pinocchio dolls from various periods, alongside plastic games furniture designed by Stefano Giovannoni, curator of the exhibition, for the Alessi Company.

The main point that the exhibition highlights is that the reference to children does not have to be childish, and that it often stems – as further explained by Annicchiarico – from designers’ attention to their inner child. And this is precisely what you could encounter at the successful and also much talked about exhibitions of the design week, which placed emphasis on experience and playfulness. For example, Stone Age Folk, Caesarstone’s ground-breaking collaboration with international designer Jaime Hayon, which included carousels, coffee tables, and cupboards in the shape of birds and painted clown-like faces.

Stone Age Folk the collaboration of Caesarstone with Jaime Hayon. Photograph: Tom Mannion.

Stone Age Folk the collaboration of Caesarstone with Jaime Hayon. Photograph: Tom Mannion.

In the main palace hall, Hayon treated Caesarstone surfaces in the same way that designers treat a precious stone. He embedded the Caesarstone surfaces installation in metal frames (four metres high), combining innovative processing techniques with traditional stained glass techniques. Two Caesarstone carousels were placed in the centre of the hall, which invited visitors to ride and play. The result, as reported by numerous media outlets such as the British Guardian, the Wallpaper magazine, or the online design magazine Dezeen, was one of the most talked about, photographed, and tagged exhibitions, with mesmerizing combinations of various colours, shapes, and structures, of old traditions and new technologies, of fantasy, folklore, and humour, which characterise the fantastical world that Hayon often creates in his works.

Jaime Hayon. Photograph: Tom Mannion

Caesarstone and Wallpaper Magazine party. Photograph: Tom Mannion

Look at the material

This is the fifth consecutive year that Caesarstone has exhibited at Milan Design Week, the pinnacle event of the design world. This year, Caesarstone returned to Palazzo Serbelloni, an impressive Milanese palace from the 18th century in the city centre. This year, the installation hosted about 15,000 visitors, as well as the joint annual party with the design magazine Wallpaper*. However, in addition to the extraordinary and game-like experience that awaited visitors, the installation also exhibited the infinite possibilities of Caesarstone’s surface processing, or as Hayon said while working on the installation, “I’m now looking at the material in a completely different way”.

An unusual preoccupation with the material could also be found in some of the prominent exhibits and installations that were exhibited in Milan this year. For example, under the title of “Invisible Outlines”, Studio Nendo, who collaborated with Caesarstone in the Stone Garden Project in Milan in 2013, presented its new collaboration with companies such as Cappellini, Flos and Glas Italia. Among the unusual exhibits were 30 silicone vases in the shape of jellyfish swimming in a water-filled aquarium, and a particularly impressive installation made out of 80 KAPA® laser-cut boards spread out like accordions and resembling snowy mountain peaks.

Studio Nendo. Photograph: Takumi Ota

Studio Swine for COS. Photograph courtesy of COS.

Studio Swine for COS. Photograph courtesy of COS.

London’s Studio Swine exhibited its collaboration with the Swedish fashion brand COS in a 1930s-defunct cinema. In the dark space, soap bubbles made out of a special compound fell from the ceiling. Using gloves, you could play with the bubbles, unlike soap bubbles that disintegrated on contact, and when they reached the floor, they burst and thick white smoke came out.

The Salviati Company – one of the oldest glass manufacturers in Murano, founded in 1859, exhibited an impressive installation at Ventura Centrale, a new exhibition complex set up in abandoned warehouses at Milan Central Station. Unlike its older brother, Ventura Lambrate, which focuses on young designers, exhibition spaces in the new complex were characterised by a museum exhibition. Thus, Salviati’s installation included two spaces: the first included 53 totems composed of 226 glass units, in 15 colours and using 10 different processing techniques. The second space included 6,072 glass sheets in 8 colours and 4 processing techniques, which were connected to 506 light fixtures. The outstanding result demonstrated an impressive combination of research, innovation, technology, and tradition, of honouring what has been done in the past for an aspiration to invent new ways of working with glass.

Salviati Installation. Photograph: Maurizio Polese

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Returning to the past whilst facing the future was also present in Tom Dixon’s Multiplex, who collaborated with Caesarstone last year with The Restaurant. Under the title “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow” Dixon exhibited his iconic designs from the past alongside new collections of light fixtures and household items, in an abandoned passage in the heart of the city’s prestigious shopping district. Dixon invited other brands to exhibit alongside him, including Arik Levy and iota, the local and social textile and design brand for craft works of local communities in contemporary design. On the top floor of the passage he exhibited his new collaboration with IKEA, a modular sofa bed with an aluminium frame. In addition, Dixon invited design students from the Royal Collage in London and other schools to present their interpretation of the sofa.

From the new IKEA collection. Photograph courtesy of IKEA.

Moooi exhibition space. Photograph: Andrew Meredith

IKEA, for its part, held a festival of design, music, and meetings with designers under the title “Let’s Make Room For Life” in the Ventura Lambrate quarter, which is actually characterised by exhibiting young designers and experimental design. It was interesting to see IKEA’s glimpse into the future, appealing to a young audience in particular – in the festival as well as the promotional materials that accompanied it – with facilities designed for chilling out and surfing the internet, a slide that you could slide down, yoga classes and the sale of furniture from the display with large discounts, especially on the final day of the design week.

And finally, the Dutch moooi company also had a particularly impressive installation, which every year holds an ostentatious exhibition in its 1,700m2 exhibition hall. This year, the concept that moooi unveiled was a hotel where photographs of mesmerising insects by the British photographer Levon Biss were hung. The entrance to the space was designed as a hotel lobby with a reception desk, and from where you could continue and be impressed by the company’s items of furniture and lighting in the bedrooms, dining room, casino and so on.