Port visits COS’ Salone del Mobile.Milano installation and discusses the future of architecture with Arthur Mamou-Mani

The Nun of Monza, Sister Marianna de Leyva – the real-life subject of Alessandro Manzoni’s The Betrothed – began a love affair with Count Gian Paolo Osio that rocked Milanese society in the 16th Century. Following the birth of their child and endeavouring to keep their affair a secret, the Count began a spree of murders, killing anyone who threatened to reveal the affair. Imprisoned and sentenced to death for his crimes, the Count fled, taking refuge in the Palazzo Isimbardi, home to Senator Cesare Taverna. Yet his supposed friend betrayed the Count, ordering his murder in the cellar of his own home.

The stuff of fairy-tale. Yet, the Palazzo Isimbardi in Milan stands the test of time. Passed down through Italy’s nobility since the turn of the 15th century, evolving from a Marquis’ country residence, a centre for scientific research and once the site of an alleged murder – it now forms the governing headquarters of the Metropolitan City of Milan and a site of significant artistic heritage.

Today, the palace has been transformed into an installation by French Architect Arthur Mamou-Mani, in collaboration with fashion label COS for their 8th installation at the Salone Del Mobile design festival in Milan. Delicately monumental, Conifera, one of the largest 3D-printed projects ever made, traces the journey from Palazzo Isimbardi’s courtyard to the garden, weaving itself into the palace’s own architecture and landscape in a multitude of wooden, white and translucent bio-bricks. Interlacing squares and crosses form 700 lattices, hanging suspended mid-air; a 90s computer game inserted into Renaissance Italy. Using wholly renewable resources, the installation responds to the interdependent relationship between architecture and nature, and between the digital and physical worlds.

London-based architect Arthur Mamou-Mani is synonymous with the emerging technologies that are opening up new, exciting spaces in architecture, such as 3D printing and algorithmic, parametric design. Named as one of the RIBA’s rising stars in 2017, Mamou-Mani came to prominence in 2018 with his commission at Burning Man Festival for the ‘temple’ – a vortex of wood twisting up from the desert floor.

We caught up with Mamou-Mani to discover more about the project, the advantages of digital technology and his take on the future of architecture.

Photography Sophie Gladstone

How would you describe your style?

It’s the idea of the architect as a maker, and as one who lets the material and other parameters create, rather than having a top-down approach. It comes a lot from my time at the Architectural Association: I learnt that architecture can be the sum of processes, not just arbitrary decisions.

What are the benefits of using digital tools, as opposed to traditional processes?

The digital tools, which include not just computers but also robotic tools for fabrication, create a holistic approach to design. The output, the physical models we make, are a direct reflection of a loop one can create now between the digital and the physical world. It becomes an iterative process, and that’s something that was much harder to do in the past. I can’t imagine an architect carving a stone by hand and putting the stone into the computer, and then carving again.

Photography Sophie Gladstone

How did the project with COS come about?

We were building the temple for Burning Man Festival, in 2018, and we got the call to our London office. They sent us a brief – the location, a palace in Milan, made quite a contrast with the Nevada desert – and I liked that it mentioned ideas like the democratisation of fashion, technology, modularity, in-temporality. It resonated with the work I was doing. I got excited.

Can you talk me through the project in Milan?

The project is based on a modular unit, a sort of bio-brick that is assembled into a series of archways going from the courtyard of the palazzo to the garden, just outside the palazzo. We start with wood, which we are 3D printing, and which slowly becomes this very pure, natural bioplastic. It’s a journey from manmade to the natural, through a technical brick.

How do you think technology will come to change architecture?

I think architecture will accept reversibility, the idea of a building that can un-build itself, which is modular and reassemble-able, and uses materials that can also go back into the earth. It is something that we will have no choice but to embrace; we have an obligation to find solutions in architecture and construction that are more sustainable, and to think more about the long term.

Open Sky: Phillip K. Smith III x COS

Port speaks to Californian artist Phillip K. Smith about OPEN SKY, a new installation for the Salone del Mobile in Milan produced in collaboration with COS

In making interactive installations with shiny surfaces that mirror their surroundings, Phillip K. Smith III has returned again and again to the sprawling landscapes of his native California. Raised in Coachella Valley, the desert has been an enduring site of inspiration in which a barren environment becomes two abstract strips of hot orange and blue. By inserting his large-scale reflective forms he distorts the sandy expanse into a series of shimmering impressions that change with every passing hour, and respond to the viewer’s movements. Smith now has a studio in Palm Beach, California and stretches of empty shore are another point of focus, whose installations unfurl and elongate to echo the coastline. 

Uprooted entirely from the climate he has studied for so long and transported to another continent, Smith’s latest project OPEN SKY is a semi-circular structure built into the constricting square courtyard of Milan’s Palazzo Isimbardi. The artwork, the result of a collaboration with London-based fashion brand COS to create their 7th annual installation for the Salone del Mobile design fair this month, contends with the 16th century architecture and marks an exciting new innovation in Smith’s work.

Karin Gustafsson, the creative director at COS, says of selecting Smith to represent the brand: “Phillip’s work is centered around looking to the natural world for subtle shifts in light and colour that inspire new ways of seeing – his works are inspiringly simple and minimal, yet they are majestic and constantly evolving with the world around them. The concepts that his work embodies are also reflective of key tenants of COS’s aesthetic and inspire us to think of our designs in new and interesting ways.”

Smith spoke to Port about the collaboration with COS, the ways visitors interact with his art and how he found working in the urban setting of a courtyard in Milan. 

How did you come to be involved with COS and the project at the Salone del Mobile?

COS reached out directly to me. My work had been on their inspiration boards for a few years and when they were thinking about commissioning an installation in their first ever outdoor space, my work made sense. COS has worked with a terrific group of artists and designers over the past few years, and I am honoured to be part of that lineage, but also to be given the chance to participate in a process that is artist-focused from conception to realisation.

In what ways does OPEN SKY respond to Palazzo Isimbardi in Milan?

I wanted to pull the sky down to the ground, to make the sky physically present. The installation is created in direct response to its location at the Palazzo Isimbardi, using both the framed sky above and the enveloping 16th century Renaissance architecture. I wanted to create an ever-changing sense of discovery of the built and natural environment. I wanted to slow the pace of experience from the moment people enter the palazzo off of the streets of Milan, so that people would be open to the subtle shifts in light and the passage of time expressed through the shifting sky.

How do you see people interacting with OPEN SKY?

As viewers navigate the installation and palazzo, their angle of reflection changes in relation to the architecture creating a dynamically shifting collage of sky and architecture, diagonally laid out across the 14 metre diameter reflective surface. This re-collaging of the surroundings opens one’s eyes to the beauty that is in front of them. The entire experience is a slowing down, from the streets of Milan to walking through the entry archway of the palazzo to walking around the abstract, tactile light and shadow exterior surface of Open Sky. The sense of pace slows and the sounds are quieted. 

Finally, people will pass through the palazzo and out into the garden where there are five freestanding Reflector sculptures that have been sited. These works interact with the sky, garden, and architecture of the interior of the block. I hope that people will use the benches and sit for a while so they can fully appreciate the surrounding beauty and atmosphere.

Many of your recent installations stretch out across beaches and deserts in your native California. How did you find this project compares to your past work?

Milan, certainly, is a new environment for me with its urban reality. When you are out in the middle of the desert, your view can be easily distilled into just to elements: land and sky. However, while all of Milan exists past the perimeters of the building, within the courtyard of the palazzo the experience can still be distilled into just two elements: sky and architecture. 

Standing since the 16th century, Palazzo Isimbardi is at the centre of Milan’s history. In what ways might OPEN SKY allow visitors to view or experience the building in a new light?

 The installation works as a tool for viewing. It is an interactive experience that requires the architecture and sky as materials and the viewer as the activator. While nearly 400 years separates the inception of the palazzo and this installation, there is a seamless, timeless merging of art, architecture, environment, light, perception and viewer.

+ Munch

Christina Skreiberg speaks to director of the Munch Museum, Stein Olav Henrichsen, and Henrik Haugan, senior brand designer at Snøhetta, to discover the intersection between art and design in a groundbreaking series of exhibitions, casting Norway’s most famous artist in a controversial new light

Photography Christina Skreiberg

This year’s European Design Festival will take place in the Norwegian capital of Oslo. In advance of both the festival’s opening in June, and another design festival – the Salone del Mobile in Milan – Port met two of Norway’s foremost thinkers in art and design; Stein Olav Henrichsen, director of the Munch Museum and Henrik Haugan, senior brand designer at Snøhetta. Here, they reflect on their prize-winning exhibition series, which presented the artist Edvard Munch in a new, bold and sometimes provoking way. 

The + Munch exhibition series marked a shift at the Munch Museum. Suddenly the traditional museum was on everybody’s lips, at times visiting numbers from the local community increased by tenfold. How did the collaboration with Snøhetta come about?

Stein Olav Henrichsen: When I became the director of the museum in late 2010, one of our main challenges was that the local audience rarely visited the museum. The locals viewed Munch as a historical icon that belonged to the past. I realised that we needed to re-enliven him as an artist and change the Norwegian’s perspective of their grand old master. We needed to be relevant to the society around us.

I got in touch with Snøhetta and asked if they wanted to throw ideas with us. A group from the museum – curators, art historians, conservators, communicators – went down to their place, by the seaside in Oslo, and spent a full day discussing how we could present Edvard Munch in new ways. We had immediate chemistry, and worked together as a team, as if we were one. And importantly, we had fun! Together we realised that we could throw new light on Edvard Munch by creating dialogue exhibitions, exhibiting him alongside other artists.

Melgaard + Munch

+Munch was a series of six exhibitions over two years, exploring the work of Edvard Munch side by side the works of first Bjarne Melgaard, then Vincent van Gogh, Gustav Vigeland, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jasper Johns and Asger Jorn. Henrik, what was your main goal when designing these exhibitions?

Henrik Haugan: Our goal is to be communicative with the audience, and treat the space with focused attention and a fresh approach, so the people who visit have a valuable experience. We aim to have an element of surprise, and give the audience unexpected experiences, hoping they will want to come back next time. We like to create a shift in temperature and energy-level from exhibition to exhibition. From rebellious and challenging to delicate and sensuous – or contemplative to playful. It was important to see the series as a whole, but we also had maximum contrast: starting with Melgaard and moving on to Van Gogh.

I like to bring the knowledge and experience we have from commercial clients into our cultural projects. The branding deals with much more than making the museum nice and beautiful, it is also something that changes people’s perception. Perhaps we have changed people’s perception of what a museum can offer, and also of what’s allowed to be done with a national treasure like Munch.

Van Gogh + Munch

Bjarne Melgaard, one of Norway’s best-known contemporary artists, was the first to exhibit alongside Edvard Munch. He is provoking to many. Why was he chosen as the one to launch the series?

Stein Olav Henrichsen: In choosing Melgaard we marked a paradigm shift, which we were eager to do. We shook up the whole museum and got to show the city that from now on we’ll also exhibit contemporary art and we will be part of the contemporary discussion. Many were provoked because up until then the museum had only exhibited Edvard Munch, and some thought it should stay that way. Many thought Bjarne Melgaard wasn’t on Munch’s level; how could we degrade Munch in this way, and show him next to this enfant terrible? Melgaard is provoking to some, but if you look into the work of Edvard Munch, he can also provoke.

Henrik Haugan: It wasn’t just Melgaard that provoked either, but our choice of colours and the way we presented the artworks next to each other. In the catalogue we infiltrated Melgaard’s work into Munch’s work, and that created a lot of controversy. Being bold and perhaps radical with the first exhibition paved the way; we could do almost anything after that. But I was slightly concerned that it would be hard to maintain the temperature in the following exhibitions.

Stein Olav Henrichsen: I believe that it is important to take a few risks. When you work with art, you never know what comes next. We managed to keep up the steam, and the public and media expectation grew with every exhibition. 

Mapplethorpe + Munch

Snøhetta has done the exhibition design, but also the catalogue design and the logo design, for all six exhibitions. You’ve won prizes such as the DOGA Award for Design and Architecture and Grafill’s Visuelt prize, the National Norwegian Graphic Design Award, for the work. Could you give us some insight into the design process?

Henrik Haugan: We started the +Munch series with a couple of large workshops where the foundation for the whole series was conceived. For the different exhibitions it was really important to get as much information from the curators as possible before starting to work on concrete ideas. The concept for the exhibition could come from these meetings or a museum visit with the team, or it could come from starting to prototype rough ideas. The fact that we had six exhibitions in a row demanded simple and communicative ideas for each exhibition. Each exhibition was a dialogue between an artist and Edvard Munch, but it was also equally important dialogue between the previous and next exhibitions in the series.

I was a visual artist before I became a designer, so I have read a lot of the biographies and literature about Munch. Later on I became a designer, but with my background I might have seen some possibilities that aren’t obvious to all, since I have a lot of insight into Munch’s lesser known works. We have placed artworks next to each other, unsure if they would stand well together, but just let the snowball roll, and we never really knew where it would land. But as long as the initial ideas are good the result is usually good too. I like it when the process is slightly unpredictable. 

Louis Vuitton’s New Objets Nomades

A look at Patricia Urquiola, the Campana Brothers and Raw Edges’ designs for a collection of objects inspired by travel

Now in its fifth year, Louis Vuitton’s Objets Nomades has seen some of the design world’s best and brightest interpret ideas about travel through an evolving collection of homewares, from a swing to a foldable stool. The project has been an ongoing opportunity for the French fashion house to partner with design talent from around the world, including Spanish architect and designer Patricia Urquiola, London studio Raw Edges and, most recently, India Mahdavi and Tokujin Yoshioka. Designers are given free rein, resulting in pieces as outlandish as the Campana Brothers’ cloud-like Bomboca sofa, but an emphasis on leatherwork and craftsmanship nods to Louis Vuitton’s heritage throughout. With the addition of 10 new designs, the collection now totals 25 objects imagined by 13 collaborators. 

Louis Vuitton’s Objets Nomades is at Palazzo Bocconi, Corso Venezia 48, Milan until April 9



The Future of Fabric

Danish trailblazer Kvadrat is turning end-of-life textiles into furniture with the help of Max Lamb and upcycling initiative Really

Benches by Max Lamb, images courtesy of Angela Moore

“Some of the very first designers for Kvadrat were artists and architects,” says Njusja de Gier, head of branding at Denmark’s leading textile manufacturer. “That has always been a huge part of our identity.” Creative partnerships have driven the company’s reputation for innovative design since it was founded 1968 and, through collaborations with figures such as Raf Simons, Peter Saville and Olafur Eliasson, Kvadrat has advanced textiles beyond the modish world of product design and into the realm of experience. “We want to inspire people and show that you can do more with textiles than just upholster a sofa or a chair,” she says. “We’re trying to push the boundaries.”

Despite Kvadrat’s roots in the Scandinavian design tradition, one reason for the revolving roster of collaborators is to forge an international outlook. In-house engineers regularly team up with designers who have a technical understanding of yarns and weaving, such as Asa Pärson, or designers who work conceptually, such as Patricia Urquiola. These partnerships ensure that Kvadrat remains relevant, furnishing architectural landmarks such as MoMA, Guggenheim Bilbao and the Oslo Opera House, while also remaining popular in private homes, hospitals, airports and public transport.

After launching its fourth collection of soft furnishings with Raf Simons at the Academy of Design in New York in March, Kvadrat has now teamed up with ‘upcycling’ initiative Really, and designers Max Lamb and Christien Meindertsma to present a collection of furniture made entirely from end-of-life wool and cotton. The launch exhibition at Salone del Mobile will detail the making of the solid textile board using cut-offs from the fashion and design industries, as well as unwanted household textiles. 

“Upcycling is necessary,” says Njusja. “We saw this as the next step in Kvadrat’s sustainability strategy. Naturally, we have a lot of cut-offs, and this is a way to do something beautiful with them.” The solid textile boards come in four colours – blue, white, slate and brown – based on their textile source, and can be used in many of the same ways as solid wood. 

“We approached Max because of his material research. He’s already experimented with engineered marble so we knew he would take an interesting approach,” Njusja explains. “He has designed 12 benches for us in such a way that we can recycle each piece and make new textile boards with it. It’s completely closed-loop.” 

Max Lamb and Christien Meindertsma’s designs, along with their research and prototypes, will be on display from 5 April at Salone del Mobile 2017