Milan Design Week sets the future direction of design, exhibiting innovative ideas and agenda-setting principles that reflect consumer thinking.
Responding to the strain on the world’s natural resources and prevailing notions of economic uncertainty, many designers are focusing on sustainable solutions that address real needs. This report explores the key themes surrounding current consumer attitudes and technological innovation at Milan 2012.
Adapting nature’s optimal systems is a key survival strategy for the human race. Several designers exhibited projects that work directly with some of nature’s wonder materials.
Five times stronger than steel, spider silk defies belief. Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Thomas Maincent’s design concept – Spider Farm – is a bio-factory to cultivate material from Madagascan silk spiders. The farm mimics the spider’s natural habitat, and supplies them with everything they need to produce. It is designed for industrial-scale manufacturing.
German designer Werner Aisslinger is cultivating furniture rather than manufacturing it. The Chair Farm installation – presented at Milan’s Ventura Lambrate venue – is a laboratory that grows chairs from plants in steel frames. Once the wood has reached maturity and formed a suitable shape, the chair is released from the frame. Chair Farm envisages a time when furniture will no longer be transported over great distances, but ‘grown’ on location.
Japanese architect Akihisa Hirata collaborated with Japanese electronics company Panasonic to create Photosynthesis – a solar-powered installation at Milan’s Interni Pavilions at the Universita Degli Studi di Milano.
Hirata and Panasonic conceived the project as an “artificial miniature energy system”, and a conceptual prototype for solar-powered architecture. Inspired by the configuration of a tree, the structure is built from existing Panasonic products and prototypes, with solar panels as leaves, balloon lamps and light bulbs as blossom, and batteries as fruit. Photosynthesis mimics an efficient natural ecosystem – using solar panels to transform sunlight into energy, while the batteries store it, and the light bulbs use it.
Designer Dagny Rewera breathes life into inanimate objects. Her project LumenBios is a Perspex table filled with wood and bioluminescent fungi. Over time, the fungi cultivates – feeding on the wood, and turning the table into a living organism. The object truly reveals its bioluminescent splendour when the sun goes down. For more inspiration see our Vision report, Fungi in the Biological Age.
Amsterdam-based multidisciplinary organisation Transnatural exhibited Trace Light by Mike Thompson and Gionata Gatto, which also looks at luminescence. The outdoor lamps are made using photoluminescent pigments and polyurethane rubber, which converts waste energy back into visible light as darkness descends. This project follows on from the duo’s Trap Light – exhibited at last year’s Milan Design Week. See Vision’s Milan Technology report for more information.
The emergence of participative design and digital manufacturing is challenging luxury craftsmanship and mass production. The process behind the products took centre stage with a host of designers creating work on-site – captivating the crowd and heralding the emergence of designer as manufacturer.
British designer Tom Dixon teamed up with German machine tools company Trumpf to produce his new Stamp chair. Trumpf’s punching machine – capable of turning sheets of galvanised steel into six Stamp chairs every 25 minutes – put on an impressive show at Dixon’s new design hub Most. Dixon says: “We can make these things in front of people, so they can really understand how possible it is now to design and develop and distribute things in a modern way.”
Amsterdam-based designer Jolan Van Der Wiel’s nifty machine manufactures stools using the natural force of magnetism. To form the Gravity Stools a mixture of resin and iron filings is placed in the machine’s mould. Magnets in the top section of the machine slowly ‘grow’ the mixture upwards against the force of gravity, creating fractural forms that become the legs.
Martijn Rigters, a student at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague, exhibited Foam Party – a process-driven concept that uses a flexible moulding technique to create made-to-measure foam chairs in 15 minutes, using the human body as a living mould.
The Future of Making exhibition, curated by Italian architecture and design magazine Domus, gave a glimpse into the future of manufacturing. Transforming Milan’s elaborate Palazzo Clerici venue into a fast-paced, digital lab, highlights included Markus Kayser’s Solar Sinter – a 3D printer that relies on just sand as the raw material, and sunlight as power. Dutch designer Dirk Vander Kooij’s Endless Robot prints chairs from recycled fridge plastic, while US-based funding body Kickstarter exhibited a range of crowdsourced products. For more information, see the Vision report Infinite Production.
Also cementing the tinkerer’s assail into the mainstream, Milan department store La Rinascente hosted Hacked – an experimental programme of live activities, installations and workshops. One event saw UK product designer Patrick Stevenson-Keating craft a particle accelerator from hand-blown glass.
In response to growing fears surrounding global climate change, Stylus noted a flurry of inspired solutions that explore the complex roles that design could play in the apocalyptic landscape of the future.
Several designers from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, Israel exhibited tools to survive a disaster. Israeli designer Baruch Mogilevsky exhibited Preserved – a food preservation method that revives the ancient human practice of meat curing for the modern day. Mogilevsky compresses table salt granules, causing them to crystallise and form a rigid capsule that keeps meat preserved and edible for years.
Idan Raizberg’s Ruins Catheter is a modular system designed to rescue a person trapped under a collapsed structure. Taking inspiration from a balloon catheter – a tool used to expand human arteries – Ruins Catheter is a capsule with an inflatable airbag locked inside that provides a safe crawlspace to stay in during rescue attempts.
The Extreme Environment Love Hotel by UK-based Al Hasegawa is a hotel room that simulates impossible spaces and looks at how we might adapt to wildly different environments. The hotel’s first simulation is the Carboniferous geologic period, which prototypes couples having to carry around a suitcase containing higher levels of oxygen. This project is a great example of prototyping an experience.
Curated by Italian architects Barbara Brondi and Marco Rainò, Another Terra is an exhibition – that’s also looking at unexplored dimensions. Exploring the relationship between humans and the objects that would make up daily life on another planet, designers presented thoughtful concepts in a sequence of transportable capsules.
Highlights include UK-based designer Tomás Alonso, who produced an exquisite set of tools that will allow the human race to build a new world of essential artefacts. Materra by Dutch designer Jo Meesters is a collection of bowls made from pressed soil and waste material from our current habitat that will spawn new life when watered. And creative design duo Lanzavecchia+Wai created One Day in the Life of V.M – a golden woven quilt that’s stamped with the names of all the objects touched and used on a normal day – providing a nostalgic souvenir of a forgotten world.
Time is a precious commodity in today’s fast-paced digital landscape. And designers are responding to the pressure of making every second and count by generating inspired solutions that outline new ambient rhythms.
La Cura – designed by UK-based design outfit Studio Toogood and sponsored by German skincare brand Nivea – was a highlight of the week. The 20-minute meditative performance addresses all of the senses.
Designed as an antidote to Milan’s creative storm, the installation provides a nurturing hospital for the senses. Occupying a circular room at Tom Dixon’s new design hub Most in Milan, guests are seated around a poetic whitewashed pavilion. They are then treated to an aural soundscape and given a ball of white clay to shape into an expression of their mood – Stylus crafted a spiral. The mini artworks or ‘cures’ are then collected and safeguarded by ‘caretakers’, and added to the pavilion.
The mood is serene and the colourless palette calms the mind – enhanced by a bespoke scent designed to capture the essence of the colour white.
Time Shop is a pop-up art and design store that trades time and skills for commodities. Designed by visual communications designer Livia Lima, Time Shop explores an alternative economic model for the fragile financial system. For more inspiration, see the Vision report The Future of Money.
Royal College of Art student Lucy Norman and Dutch designer Maarten Baas are both exploring more relaxed forms of time.
Norman’s project Time Machine is an unusual analogue clock that measures time in a subjective way. Each person can tailor their measurement of time to move faster or slower depending on the ratio of weight hung on each side of the clock’s pulley system.
Baas, who exhibited with kinetic design studio Lakingland, showed Just About Now, a clock that takes inspiration from the traditional sand falling through an hourglass.
The process behind products took centre stage with a host of designers creating work on-site – captivating the crowd and heralding the emergence of designer as manufacturer.
Several designers exhibited projects that draw directly from some of nature’s wonder materials. Werner Aisslinger’s Chair Farm installation is a laboratory that ‘grows’ chairs from plants in steel frames.
Several designers are exploring the role of design in an apocalyptic landscape. Baruch Mogilevsky exhibited a food preservation capsule that keeps meat preserved and edible for years.
Designers are responding to the pressure of making every second count by generating inspired solutions that outline new ambient rhythms and measure time in new ways.