Student Trip: Milan Design Week

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This past April our MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies students travelled to Milan. Every April the international design community converges on Milan for the Salone del Mobile, a massive trade fair showing the latest developments in industrial and product design. The city of Milan is flush with designers, buyers, critics and aficionados as the trade fair runs concurrently with Milan Design Week. Pop-up design exhibits and installations by designers in every stage of their career, from superstars to design students, can be found all over the historic city.

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Our very first stop was the Ventura Lambrate district, a former industrial area where the abandoned warehouses become the perfect ad hoc exhibition spaces during Design Week. In this neighborhood are many art schools and independent exhibits centered on non-traditional themes such as communal food practices, human relationships with pets, and the productive possibilities of waste. The area is a hub for critical and speculative design, which provides an interesting contrast to the trade driven Salone de Mobile.

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Our first full day began with an intimate tour of the historic house/studio of Achille Casitglioni, one the most important designers of the Italian design boom of the second half of the 20th century. The tour provided great insight into the possibilities of a problem-solving based approach to design and the way in which sometimes the simplest solutions to banal problems produce the most novel and ingenious design products. Immediately after was a visit to the Triennale Design Museum to see the exhibitions “Arts & Food – Rituals since 1851” and “Kitchens & Invaders” both curated by Germano Celant. The shows included a staggering amount of works and they demonstrated just how much our relationship to food has influenced our material culture and artistic visual vocabulary.

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The remaining days were spent exploring the Zona Brera and Zona Tortona districts, known for the presence of luxury fashion brands and larger sponsored group exhibitions, respectively. At the Design Center Ex Ansaldo, one of the many repurposed factories in Milan, there was the France Design exhibition organized by the French design publication 14septembre and exhibitors as varied as the Irish Craft and Design Council to the Peugeot Design Lab and a space previewing the events of Tokyo Design Week. Each neighborhood has a distinct identity that reflects the diversity in products and approaches of contemporary design.

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Many of the exhibitors used the opportunity to engage with the issues of food and the environment, which was a fascinating precursor to the larger events of the EXPO 2015 installed in May 2015. The event is no longer about just showing the newest designs in furniture; it has become a venue for demonstrating the integral role of design in the world of today, and the world of the future.

Text by MFA student Oliver Graney.

Learn more about the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies at Parsons Paris.