Photo Essays

A Peek Inside Milan Design Week, Where Sustainability Is Trending

Just in time for Earth Day, this year’s Salone includes 1,200 installations scattered all over the city, many devoted to sustainability and technology under the theme “Be Human.”

J&PEG, “Invisible Cities” (Istituto dei Ciechi, Via Vivaio 7, Milano), is an installation that references architect Luis Barragán and painter Giorgio de Chirico. It’s part of the “WonderGlass” exhibition, which explores the possibilities of glass as an artistic medium.

MILAN — Milan Design Week, or Il Salone del Mobile, is more than a design-forward trade show for furniture geeks. Now in its 57th edition, it is also a city-wide immersive art experience that comes with its manifesto, boasting keywords and buzzwords from emotion and enterprise to communication, culture, and “Milan at the Centre.”

The theme of this year’s Salone, which runs through April 22, was “Be Human.” Just in time for Earth Day, environmental sustainability and a hefty dose of technology were key elements, with installations scattered all around the city trying to demonstrate how technological advancement can benefit mankind.

But despite all the talk about sustainability, there were plenty of designs that are just as preoccupied with looking good on camera. There are several kaleidoscopic installations, complex lighting scenes, and even dining experiences that focus on picture-perfect “mise-en-place.” The setting of these installations ranges from historical palazzi to former industrial warehouses, such as an abandoned panettone factory.

Here are a few highlights from a two-day visit — which, in a city filled with 1,200 installations, only managed to scratch the surface.

The installation “Sun+” (Alcova, Via dei Popoli Uniti 11, Milano), located in a former baking facility, is meant to make the viewer reflect on the impact of overexposure to sun. Dutch creators BuroBelén accomplished it by creating an ample installation that juxtaposed a wide-brimmed sun hat with, among other items, a half-molten parasol. “Rethinking the physicality of sunscreen seems key, if we want a happy life in the sun,” reads their statement.
Li Edelkoort and Philip Fimmano’s “Waste No More” is part of the showcase of Eileen Fisher’s upcycled textiles DesignWorks (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic).
The arch-like structure of “Waste No More” (Ventura Centrale, Via Ferrante Aporti 19, Milano), filled with discarded clothing, is meant to raise awareness on fashion waste and its environmental impact. In a way, it’s a continuation of Edelkoort’s “Anti-Fashion Manifesto,” which harshly criticized compulsive fashion consumption, equating disposable clothes to used condoms.
Installation view of furniture by GUBI (Corso Venezia 16, Milano). The Danish manufacturer chose to showcase its sleek designs in a neoclassical palazzo, built in 1770.
For Design Week, Sardinian designer Antonio Marras (former creative director at Kenzo) opened a temporary bistro inspired by the fare of his homeland (Nonostante Marras, Via Cola di Rienzo, 8, Milano). The table settings and ceiling decorations are part of one big installation.
Architect David Rockwell, Surface Magazine and 2×4 design studio created a diner-inspired structure, which is both a restaurant and a performance space (Ventura Centrale, Via Ferrante Aporti, 15, Milano). It showcases the latest trends in US design, through sections like Roadside Diner, East Coast Luncheonette, Midwest Diner, and West Coast Diner.
Fashion designer JJ Martin, who became known for revitalizing Italian archival textile prints for her apparel line, recently expanded into home design (Piazza Arcole 4, Milano).
Concept store Spazio Rossana Orlandi hosted Softwear, Google’s buzzy foray into “smart” home design. But it was the various lamp designs that caught most of the attendees’ attention. One example is the work of Marcantonio Morandi Malerba, who juxtaposed realistic sculptures with baroque-inspired chandeliers (Via Matteo Bandello, 14/16, Milano).
Installation view at Moooi (Via Savona 56, Milano)
Missoni teamed up with artist Rachel Hayes to create mesh-wire floor-to-ceiling hollow cylindrical structures decked with multi-colored gel sheets (Via Solferino, 9, 20121 Milano).
They reflect kaleidoscopic motifs onto the all-white surrounding surfaces, thanks to strategically-placed fans and lighting systems. The installation is meant to convey both power and fragility.
For the 90th anniversary of KAWAI, the musical-instrument manufacturer partnered with light designer Takahiro Matsuo for “Crystal Rain” (Superdesign Show, Superstudio, Via Tortona 27, Milano), which consists of a crystal grand piano together with “droplets” of light, which imitate rainfall depending on the note played on the instrument.
Shoe brand Melissa partnered with None Collective for the immersive installation “The Brilliant Side of Us” (Erastudio Apartment-Gallery, Via Palermo 5, Milano), which consists of two rooms completely covered with an irregular, reflective surface.

Il Salone del Mobile (Milan Design Week) continues in Milan, Italy until April 22.

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