Simon Keane-Cowell

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Simon Keane-Cowell
Zürich   Suisse

Milan 2013: Design Hones its Craft at Brera Design District


Looking, now more than ever, for ways of adding value to its products, there’s a renaissance of craft-based thinking within design manufacturing taking place. Where better to see this trend presented and discussed than in Milan’s leading design quarter, Brera, which has long been the cradle of artistic expression and craftsmanship?
 

Download the Architonic Guide to Milan 2013 as a PDF here Download the Architonic Guide to Milan 2013 as a PDF here

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Milan 2013: Design Hones its Craft at Brera Design District
The number of visitors to last year's Brera Design District during the Milan Furniture Fair topped 100,000. The event's organisers are setting their sights even higher this time round; photo Patrick Tomei Neri for Brera Design District 2012

Long popular with tourists for its cobbled streets, restaurants and resident fortune-tellers, you don’t need the gift of prescience to see what’s happening in Milan’s Brera quarter. The past few years have witnessed the area become, beyond the annual Salone del Mobile, a highly credible design destination in itself, thanks to the many high-end design brands that have chosen to set up their showrooms in this historic city neighbourhood. And it’s a trend that looks set to continue.

Yet it’s fair time in April that truly sees the Brera Design District – the banner under which these premium-segment manufacturers, together with other quality-name brands who temporarily exhibit in a number of architecturally intriguing venues, join forces – come into its own, offering visitors a design experience that’s greater than the sum of its individual parts. The 2013 edition, the fourth, is setting its sights even higher than last year’s programme, which saw a remarkable 100,000 design fans flock to the area.

Milan 2013: Design Hones its Craft at Brera Design District
Sanitary design manufacturer Geberit has chosen to return to Brera this year, showing at the Museo Minguzzi; photo Patrick Tomei Neri for Brera Design District 2012

Milan 2013: Design Hones its Craft at Brera Design District
Design brand Moroso's showroom on the via Pontaccio will be transformed by Patricia Urquiola into a dynamic installation called ‘The Revolving Room; photo Patrick Tomei Neri for Brera Design District 2012

For Deborah Spencer, the brains behind Designjunction – the annual London showcase of some of the best global design brands and smaller design labels, which has shifted the exhibitionary paradigm and given the traditional design trade fair a run for its money – Brera was the obvious choice for Edit, the Milan edition of this carefully curated show. ‘The area has really evolved, now having the highest concentration of showrooms in one place and is very accessible from all corners of the city,’ explains Spencer. ‘It’s appropriate for us as a brand and the brands that show with us.’

Taking up residence in the Pelota, the iconic, 9-metre-high former sports hall on the via Palermo, Edit will play host to a participation of a different kind, with producers such as Atelier Areti, Modus and Kalmar inviting visitors to become acquainted with their latest products. Those taking advantage of the VIP lounge, a collaboration with Apartment 58, will get to know Modus’s furniture even better thanks to their furnishing of the space, while the overall visual concept for the show comes courtesy of Michael Sodeau.

Milan 2013: Design Hones its Craft at Brera Design District
'(Brera) is appropriate for us as a brand and the brands that show with us,' says Deborah Spencer, the brains behind curated top-design-label show Designjunction, which this year takes over the former Pelota sports hall

Bathroom design manufacturer Agape, who will be throwing open the doors of their via Statuto showroom even wider than usual, consider Brera to be the natural choice for a permanent presence in Italy’s design capital. ‘It is an area that lives all year round,’ says Laura Torchio, ‘not only during the Salone. It’s the ideal trail for discerning visitors. You start at the Corso Como, reference point for fashion and photography, cross the via Statuto and via Solefrino, walking past the most important design shops, until you reach the Accademia and La Scala.’

Design brand Foscarini feels equally at home in Brera, where their new showroom on the via Pontaccio/via Fiori Chiari will be the venue for an installation by Attilio Stocchi. ‘We chose Brera,’ explains Alessandro Vecchiato, owner of the company with Carlo Urbinati, ‘because it is the heart of the city for design and crafts, but also for art. As we wanted to create not just a simple showroom, but rather a space which transmits emotions and stimulates creativity, we thought Brera was the right location.’ Meanwhile, Villeroy & Boch’s new showroom on the Foro Buonaparte will be the site of an art-meets-industry installation by American artist Ebon Heath called ‘LoopArt – Second Glance’. The manufacturer considers the location to be a perfect fit with their brand, too. ‘For Villeroy & Boch,’ says Shamiram Abdullah, marketing manager Benelux and Italy, being in the Brera Design District means bath and wellness entering the design network and taking advantage of a selected target group, mainly architects and designers.’

Milan 2013: Design Hones its Craft at Brera Design District
The Magis showroom on the Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi will play host to the innovative designs of renowned design duo Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec; photo Patrick Tomei Neri for Brera Design District 2012

‘Luckily, Brera is not just a fashion district,’ says Sara Bellinzani from design manufacturer Magis, whose showroom on the Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi will feature the innovative designs of that renowned design brethren the Bouroullecs. ‘On the contrary, it’s an interesting mix of places where you can buy industrially made products, as well as craft-made and sustainable ones.’

The relation between craft and industry is this year’s theme for the Brera Design District (‘The reflection on craft making and industrial thinking and its associated value of quality’, to be exact), and there’s something particularly fitting about this. Brera, home to the Accademia di Belle Arti and the Pinacoteca, has for centuries been synonymous with fine art and the bohemian expression of the individual, who translates their personal vision into a visual, material form. In the same way, pre-industrial craftsmanship, before the advent of the division of labour in the mechanised manufacturing process, was characterised by an intensity of individual thought, labour, problem-solving and personal pride. The resulting artefacts, with their honed quality, were precisely that – objects of quality.

Milan 2013: Design Hones its Craft at Brera Design District
'(Brera) is an area that lives all year round,’ says Laura Torchio from Agape, who will be throwing open the doors of their via Statuto showroom even wider than usual; photo Patrick Tomei Neri for Brera Design District 2012

Of course, craft, while largely displaced by the processes of industry, is still with us and, perhaps as a response to a desire on the part of consumers for objects that possess a greater emotional resonance or respond to the growing consciousness of matters of sustainability, is acquiring a renewed role within the industrial design process as a means of adding value to it. The organisers of Brera sum it up in one word: value. ‘Having lost the battle in terms of cost, what with relocation and emerging markets, the widespread world of design today must go beyond the "form-function" relationship and reintroduce the knowledge factor both in the design and in the production phase.’

For design brand spHaus, who have decided to show in Brera’s Spazio Theca, drawing on craft-making processes in the business of industrially producing design objects is a no-brainer. ‘Our company is based on this,’ explains MD Filippo Dell’Orto. ‘Since the beginning, I developed spHaus projects where the production was based on both working processes: industrial and craft-made. This might look like a novelty to the external observer, but if you live in the region of Brianza, this is commonplace. And it is the real strength of the companies based here. Just don’t tell China.’

Sanitary design manufacturer Geberit, which has chosen to return to Brera for the third year running, exhibiting this time round in the Museo Minguzzi, sees craft as playing a key role in product innovation. ‘The theme for this year’s Geberit show is “Cloudeas” – a cloud of ideas. We’ll be showing the latest, innovative ideas to have become real products,’ explains Alberto Rovati, Head of Marketing Communication Italy. ‘All have been conceived of like craft pieces, which have then been industrialised for production purposes.’ Design brand Moroso, whose showroom on the via Pontaccio will be transformed by Patricia Urquiola into a dynamic installation called ‘The Revolving Room’, also recognises the value-adding potential of craft and its relevance to today’s market. ‘Moroso is particularly attentive and sensitive to the past that flows into the present, says Mirella Majone, ‘with a mix of craft making and industrial thinking. That’s why this year’s theme at Brera fully represents our mindset.’

Milan 2013: Design Hones its Craft at Brera Design District
Brera highlights include an exhibition celebrating the work of master craftsman and designer Pierluigi Ghianda at the Triennale; photo Patrick Tomei Neri for Brera Design District 2012

But it’s one of this year’s Brera highlights – an exhibition celebrating the work of go-to master craftsman and designer Pierluigi Ghianda, presented by Brera Design District, the Triennale di Milano, Unione Artigiani and Ottagono magazine, and curated by Studiolabo and Bottega Ghianda – that evinces most clearly the meaningful and productive relation that craft and industry can, and should, enjoy. Entitled ‘The Man Who Signs the Wood’, the show charts the octogenarian’s numerous collaborations throughout his career with a host of eminent architects, furniture and product designers that reads like a Who’s Who of Italian design history – Ettore Sottsass, Gio Ponti, Gae Aulenti and the Castiglioni brothers among them.

More than just a cabinet-maker, Ghianda has been responsible for producing immaculate, sensitive furniture pieces and other objects in woods such as rosewood and ebony that demonstrate a remarkable understanding of the formal possibilities of materials and their tactile value. And with a conference, moderated by Ottagono’s editor Aldo Colonetti, allowing visitors the chance to immerse themselves completely in the craft/industry thematic, all roads lead to the Triennale. Just make sure you stop off at the wealth of inspiring Brera design shows and events on the way. Va bene?

Milan 2013: Design Hones its Craft at Brera Design District
'It’s the ideal trail,' says Agape’s Laura Torchio. 'You start at the Corso Como, reference point for fashion and photography, cross the via Statuto and via Solefrino, past the most important design shops, until you reach the Accademia and La Scala’

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Download the Architonic Guide to Milan 2013 as a PDF here Download the Architonic Guide to Milan 2013 as a PDF here