Milan Design Week 2008

Milan is a city entrenched in tradition and kept hidden behind closed doors, yet this privacy is always invaded by curious tourists from all over the world. Most notably, during the Salone Internazionale del Mobile, a week dedicated to design, over 220,000 visitors came to Milan, increasing the central population by almost 17%! This figure, almost 30% up from last year, goes to show how powerful and influential this northern Italian city is when it comes to design. As featured in our other story, Milan Design Week 2008 – Auto, many automotive companies have begun making hosting events in Milan where they can stand out of the crowd yet be part of the clique. The main event is the Salone Internazionale del Mobile (this year includes lights, kitchens, bathrooms, and future housing all described at, and Sallone Satellite (young designers) held at Fiera Milano in Rho 30 min from Milan. While the main fair attracts most of the industry heavies, trend setters and design gurus prefer the Salone Satellite and INTERNI magazine’s Fuori Salone (outside the fair) events hosted around town. We can only give you a snapshot of what was ‘happening’ but the main concepts were saving space, taking responsibility vis a vis the environment, and non-commercialism.

The Salone Satellite’s theme this year was written on the walls loud and clear, “Viva il Verde! Go Green”. Curated by Cosmit’s Marva Griffin, the Satellite has become, after 11 years of existence, the Mecca for young designers worldwide. They apply in hopes of participating in this highly publicized and attended design event where many of them get offers by important companies to get their designs produced. This year’s 570 participants were, for the first time asked, to contribute designs that were related to the environment, sustainability, and contemporary design. Although the theme just reflects the worldwide ethical climate change we are all experiencing the way each participant expressed fulfilled the brief was interesting in that many chose ‘saving space’ thus ‘saving material’ as key elements as opposed to the straight forward usage of sustainable and recycled materials. This is a trend that might salvage the ailing furniture industry and inspire the automotive one.

The restraint with which designers used materials at the Salone Satellite has never been so obvious. No longer a discussion about whether or not materials should be recycled or reused designers have begun to use a new set of aesthetics to emphasize durability, reduce wasted material, and save space, in addition to using sustainable materials. Tazana, or ‘Attitude’ in Thai, was created by Thai Designer Suppapong Sonsang and inspired by material optimization, the environment, and Thai culture. He found that patterns found in traditional Thai goods could be translated into 3D by perforating 2D material thus reducing space and material. The results were cellular shapes such as lampshades, vases, and even a side table that respected the connection between handcraft-work and the power of machine made products. Takashi Sato’s Pata/Folding Chair also explored the idea of 2D to 3D with a felt covered stool that when pulled from the inner tabs folded flat.

Modular design was also back in vogue with objects like Naho Matsuno’s cube6 and cube3 stools/coffee tables. Cube6 is made up of 3 stools and 3 coffee tables that slide and fit into each other, while as the name suggests, Cube3 is 3 stools/tables that slide into each other. ‘Modular Racks’ designed by Jean-Philippe Bonzon from Switzerland was another example of how modularity and economy of space coupled with sustainable materials lend themselves to a new era of green designers; it is made from oak timber, plexiglass, and steel, its is easy to assemble without the need for nails, screws, or glue. Taro and Sarah from Germany presented their floating ‘MyCloud’ Magnetomorphic Light System concept whereby individual cells with magnetic dots connect to each other morphing into a larger ‘light cloud’. The dots create the circuit enabling current to run through the cloud and light up the system. The entire notion of modularity recalls nomad living. Objects such as in-i’s (Japan) Pool portable lamp and hettlertullmann’s (German) Plywood Knock Down Chair point out that young people are neither stuck to their countries nor to any other place for that matter. Uncertainty in the world is making these objects transportable to make change easier without having to dispose of our furnishings.

Stepping away from the fairgrounds in Rho and heading back to the bustling streets of Milan there was one must see stop on every visitor’s itinerary during Milan Design Week. INTERNI, one of Italy’s leading design magazines, hosts a major Fuori Salone event every year. This year’s title was ‘Green Energy Design’ held in the courtyards of the Università degli Studi, known to the Milanese as the ‘Ca’ Granda’ and the former Ospedale Maggiore dating back to 1452. The sheer historic legacy the building has must have been a daunting thought as the almost 30 participants put pen to paper to propose their eco-sustainable, eco-compatible designs. In the brief INTERNI pointed out that, “In Europe half of overall energy consumption is absorbed by urban systems. If we consider the fact that the type of energy required by cities is obtained from high quantities of non-renewable, increasingly expensive fossil fuels based on sources that are approaching a state of total depletion, it becomes clear that the coming generations will have to come to grips with a substantially different way of life, where architecture and design will have very important roles to play in the management and saving of environmental resources”. The answers from designers invited from all over were at times philosophically driven while others functional, however, the message was clear…there is another way out!

A few of the projects explored materials in contemplative spaces such as Lace and Padiglione della meditazione, while others used materials to create energy such as Sunplant and Bodh Gaya – Solar Tree; others still searched to provoke a debate about our environmental situation such as Philippe Starck’s Democratic Ecology. There are too many to mention here (download PDF file here) but it was really the collection of them that made the whole experience ‘a breath a fresh air’.

Lace is a breathing, architectural shell made from tiles designed by Antonio Citterio and from eco-resins free from solvents and volatile organic components (VOCs) supplied by Kerakoll Design. The structure was designed to enhance the relationship between outside and inside creating an energy exchange brought in by day and night. Padiglione della meditazione by Mario Bellini with Elica and Meritalia is a Japanese Tea House inspired space that uses a plain recycled plastic film to cover a cubic structure with ‘air ravioli’. The padded structure creates a microclimate inside whereby in winter the roof is used to bring in rain to use as a spa and in the summer it can be opened up to create a airy relaxing enclosure.

Toshiyuki Kita worked with Sanyo and Ross Lovegrove with Artemide to produce two practical solutions for today’s immediate climate problems. Kita’s Sunplant was a 1.3m tree that accumulates solar energy via Sanyo solar panels and rechargeable Eneloop batteries to operate everyday electronic appliances. It also seemed to function as a street light at night, but it wasn’t clear if that was its purpose. Standing next to the Sunplant was Lovegrove’s much more sophisticated Bodh Gaya – Solar Tree at 4.1m in height. The name inspired by Gautama Siddharta’s tree where he meditated and became Buddha may inspire us to rise to a higher level on consciousness about the environment. The tree’s branches rise up to the sun to capture its energy and filter it into a system of batteries that charges the ‘bulbs’ at nighttime; poetic and pragmatic. Starck’s personal wind turbine prototype was enclosed in a graphic laden twisted cube proclaiming to the world that we should refuse to be used by industries and make our own way into a cleaner tomorrow. Ironic, since it is his goal to make these products that we will buy and install in our homes to make our own energy with products like this turbine who’s technology relies on Pramac’s photovoltaic and Aeolian technology.