Finding meaning at Milan Design Week

MILAN – ‘I really enjoyed the Sony Design exhibition,’ says Anouk Haegens, St-W’s research editor. ‘It was playful, surprising – and it made me laugh.’ Haegens is referring to Hidden Senses, the technology company’s Milan Design Week 2018 exhibition that invites visitors to explore technology and space through new sensorial interactions. With the conclusion of the citywide and worldwide design phenomenon, St-W looks back at some of the most memorable and meaningful exhibitions of the week.

As recently established by the St-W Awards Milan winners, showing a product collection at Milan is not enough to make an impression – brands must create an emotional response in visitors. One approach is to be flamboyant or provocative – and these two adjectives are sufficient to introduce the first brand on the list, Marcel Wanders’ Moooi. The Museum of Extinct Animals tells a story of adventure and fantasy – as opposed to a product story à la here is a chair – by building a whimsical world from the textures, shapes, patterns and designs of the Dutch furniture brand.

Using Moooi ingredients, Concrete Amsterdam and Megan Grehl imagine an interior that expresses ‘the unexpected diversity of beauty in all its forms’. Photo Andrew Meredith

Another holistic brand experience is the joint exhibition by Hay, Sonos and WeWork on the future of design, sound, living and work in the Palazzo Clerici. The vast 1,500-sq-m space housing the companies’ shared vision for the living and working environments of tomorrow invites exploration and an organic discovery of the brands’ designs and spatial solutions.

Within the framework of WeWork’s contemporary working environments, Hay and Sonos products reveal the evolving nature of functional spaces and design.

On the theme of inviting exploration, footwear brand Melissa collaborates with None Collective to transform the interior of an industrial apartment-gallery into an immersive kaleidoscopic crystal cave. Embodying the adage on not judging a book by its cover, the installation puts the focus on materiality in reference to Melissa’s 100% sustainable plastic footwear.

Photo Francesco Dolfo

The glittering scenography by None Collective enhances perspectives of colour and material, renewing the visitor’s frame of reference and relationship with the Melissa footwear. Photo Francesco Dolfo

Gaining new perspectives has its pleasures, and two brands re-examining living spaces in meaningful ways are Mini and Containerwerk. Mini Living – Built by All explores the collaborative factor in communal urban living through co-created spaces and provides visitors with the opportunity to create their own conceptual models of future urban living apartments. Meanwhile, German start-up Containerwerk presents innovative living environments within shipping containers in response to critical housing issues – rising rents, shrinking spaces – as well as the trend of mobility and flexibility in modern working.

‘Today’s standardized housing market is limited in its ability to meet the requirements of the individual,’ says Oke Hauser, the creative lead behind Mini Living.

German start-up Containerwerk addresses the challenges and the increasingly fluid approach to modern working and living through its shipping-container spatial solutions. Photo Stefan Hohloch

Showmanship is inevitable at Milan Design Week, but amidst the glamour and clamour, quiet spaces for contemplation become a welcome refuge. While Containerwerk offers a new sense of home, exhibitions such as Lee Broom’s Observatory stand out for the luxury of space in the overcrowded city.

The ethereal rings of the Aurora chandelier by Lee Broom exude a gentle welcome to the Observatory exhibition.

The minimalism of modular light Orion is reflected in the expansive space, which literally gives each luminaire room to shine.

In the foreground, Eclipse lends its sculptural mirrored silhouette to a table lamp and chandelier. Lee Broom’s Tidal – a polished chrome and opaque lamp of two balancing hemispheres – can be seen in the back.

Japanese design and aesthetics appear to share a similarly straightforward expression. Nendo distinguishes itself for its focus on a single theme – the exploration of designed movement – which cohesively unites the work of ten different Japanese designers. Technology is important, but empowers the experience rather than leads it. In Soundscape, a high-tech installation by AGC Asahi Glass, floating panes of sound-generating glass create a radical new auditory landscape. Although made possible by the manufacturer’s use of new technology to mitigate the inherent resonance of glass in the generation of audio, this innovation is experienced, not explained.

The Forms of Movement exhibition by Nendo juxtaposes linear movements such as the pulling of a zipper with advanced technology and innovative materials. Photo Takumi Ota

In Forms of Movement, the Variations of Time acrylic hourglasses measure time in ways that correspond to our own subjective experience of time. Photo Takumi Ota

Designed by Motosuke Mandai of Mandai Architects, Soundscape reveals new possibilities of glass as a material. Photo Akihide Mishima

In yet another argument for the loudness of silence, Panasonic celebrates its 100th anniversary with a brand statement that’s as esoteric as it is impactful. A bubble of clean, pure atmosphere, Transitions offers a ‘water-drop pavilion’ of wellbeing that transcends products and visible technology. Indeed, interfaces evolve so quickly that timeless design necessitates their absence. In Sony Design’s Hidden Senses exhibition, technology is so seamlessly integrated into the interactive objects that the impression is that human capabilities have been enriched.

Transitions marks the Panasonic’s transition towards a creative philosophy that transcends products to address emotions, the environment, and wellbeing.

Light is drawn to objects as though by gravity, and responds to the direction of a pointed finger in Sony Design’s experiential Hidden Senses exhibition.

While almost every Milan Design Week installation touts its site-specificity, such claims may only be recognized if the inherent nature of the installation would be altered by its context. Harnessing the Milanese sky and architecture, the Open Sky installation by Phillip K. Smith III for Cos is site-specific in a technical sense. ‘Open Sky prompts a re-examination of the environment, offering a moment of reflection and calm,’ says Cos creative director Karin Gustafsson.

Merging Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate (better known as the Chicago Bean) with the angular sky reflections of skyscraper façades, the Cos Open Sky installation by Phillip K. Smith III is comparatively analogue yet striking in its minimalism. Photo Andrew Meredith

However, with regards to true interaction with the local context and community, Not For Sale by Design Academy Eindhoven is beyond compare. So embedded in its urban setting is Not For Sale’s exploration of culture, religion, wellbeing and the meaning of value, that bourgeois Milanese locals – typically uninterested in Design Week and its shenanigans – have actually interacted with the market to buy the goods that are for sale. Could a real and meaningful dialogue with the local and the Milan Design Week communities be the new measure of success? To anyone that hates the blasé impertinence of tourists, the answer might be yes.

An experiment on the meaning of value and the value of design by the students of Design Academy Eindhoven, Not For Sale engages the people of Milan in real interaction.

For more insights to the concept and process behind Milan Design Week 2018, check out the produced in collaboration with Weltevree.

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