AMO on Prada: An Interview

Alexander Reichert, AMO associate architect and Prada project leader, spoke to Stylus about the Prada Foundation and the ongoing Prada-OMA collaboration.

 Prada Foundation, Milan

Prada Foundation, Milan

It’ll be one of the highlights of 2013. The Prada Foundation, a new art centre and permanent exhibition space, opens in two years time near Milan and will be an outstanding result of the decade-long collaboration between Prada and OMA.

Renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas founded OMA in 1975, followed by its counterpart think-tank, AMO, in 1998. While OMA is dedicated to the realization of buildings, AMO is a design and research studio that operates in areas beyond architecture, including exhibitions, renewable energy models, publishing and fashion.

The Prada Foundation

The much-anticipated Prada Foundation, led by Reichert and Rem Koolhaas himself, is scheduled to open in the year of Prada’s 100th anniversary. The 20,000 square metre art center and permanent exhibition space is situated on an old industrial complex south of Milan. It will accommodate cinema, design, architecture, philosophy, fashion and performance.

The Art Foundation, says Alexander Reichert, is comprised of “3,500 square metres of artworks if you laid it down on the floor, mostly from after the 60s, including Damien Hirst, Louise Bourgeois and Anish Kapoor.”

The building, Reichert says, is “an agglomeration of different architectural typologies with different characters and spaces. There will be a tower, which will be newly built, and a huge hall. There are small houses with intimate rooms. So basically architecture will accommodate all of these artworks in different environments.”

 Prada Epicenter New York

Prada Epicenter New York

OMA Meets Prada

The long-term Prada collaboration has seen AMO and OMA working in parallel across multiple disciplines, allowing AMO’s research into brand identity, in-store technology and fashion production to inform OMA’s architectural designs.

Results of the collaboration include the Prada Epicenter New York (2001) and the Los Angeles Epicenter (2004). Since 2003, AMO has produced Prada and Miu Miu catwalk shows as well as the look books, t-shirts and exhibitions.

Why has the collaboration worked so well? Reichert says, “Fashion is not some kind of isolated art form and neither is architecture. I think architecture can embed fashion into a context, as architecture can learn from fashion.”

Fashion is not some kind of isolated art form and neither is architecture. I think architecture can embed fashion into a context, as architecture can learn from fashion
— Reichert

Fast Fashion

Every Prada collection has a theme, such as Paradise or Urban Warrior. That theme can be based on a quote, a period of time, or even an abstract idea. Reichert says that AMO tries to create a context that explains the fashion and the theme it is based on. This theme, he says, “is always an observation of what is happening in society.”

 Prada FW 2010 Catwalk Show

Prada FW 2010 Catwalk Show

The fast and adaptable nature of the catwalk gives Prada the freedom to respond to fast-changing societal attitudes with theatrical vigour. “The fashion show is the epitome of Prada’s activity, production and creation. We try to create a context for the collection to be understood and from there you have many ways of presenting that collection.”

Reichert cites the Fall/Winter 2010 Prada catwalk show in Milan as an example of the brand responding to the volatile economic climate. The collection featured clothes that could be worn straight from the runway, with heavy knits and prints such as camouflage in earthy tones. It was a practical collection exuding understated glamour.

The fashion show is the epitome of Prada’s activity, production and creation. We try to create a context for the collection to be understood and from there you have many ways of presenting that collection
— Reichert
 Prada FW 2010 Catwalk Show

Prada FW 2010 Catwalk Show

The show space was a rough and unrefined abstraction of a city including a bar, a beauty shop, music hall, broadcast centre, a cinema and a ‘Central Park’ made from green resin. Reichert describes the space as “ a metaphor of a city.” He wanted it to feel more like an anti-design – an extension of the real city. Models weaved through the ‘city’, blurring the boundary between model and guest. Reichert adds: “We really tried to do something normal and down-to-earth.”

In stark contrast, the Spring/Summer 2011 show, Real Fantasies, radiated colour and pattern, celebrating a post- recession glow after the darkness of the economic crisis. The show, Reichert says, celebrated the “joy to buy things”.

He says: “We did an installation with a grid with a roof above and a podium below and 2,000 neon lights integrated into it – it looked like a flipped toaster with the model totally in the light.” The model, once again, became the centre of attention.

Expect the Unexpected

“Prada is about creating the opposite of normality and what is expected,” says Reichert.

Prada operates with two different store typologies; the first is the Green Store, which portrays Prada’s global image – the spaces are essentially neutral, using similar colours and materials with a focus on displaying the Prada product range. Reichert says the Green Store “is understandable for people in the West and the East.”

The second typology is the flagship – the Epicenters – that aim to break down any preconceptions the public might have about Prada as a brand.

 Prada Epicenter, Los Angeles

Prada Epicenter, Los Angeles

Reichert says an Epicenter “always engages with its context and with the city where it’s built.” AMO tried to understand the meaning of luxury in each location when designing the brand experience for the Epicenters. “This luxury might not have the normal associations that you expect – maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe luxury is roughness, it’s waste – luxury is attention.”

He explains: “In the case of New York, for instance, where luxury means waste, the most provocative measurement would be to create a void in the centre of Manhattan and you waste space in order to present that you are luxurious.”

 Prada Epicenter, Los Angeles

Prada Epicenter, Los Angeles

But, in true Prada style, the team decided to create a boutique that is also a public space, a gallery and event space –transforming the boutique into a venue for cultural activities such as film screenings, performances and lectures.

The Los Angeles Epicenter also goes against the grain. Situated in the über-luxurious shopping district of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, the store is surrounded by classical storefronts and precious window displays. The Prada façade is literally non-existent. Reichert says: “OMA inserted a hovering aluminum box – a blind façade that couldn’t be more rough. It simply has an entrance, which is a retractable wall that sinks into the floor – by doing this you are doing the opposite of what the others do... The real experience comes from inside the store.”

OMA inserted a hovering aluminum box – a blind façade that couldn’t be more rough. It simply has an entrance, which is a retractable wall that sinks into the floor – by doing this you are doing the opposite of what the others do... The real experience comes from inside the store
— Reichert

Fashion and More

OMA and AMO collaborate with Prada on projects with varying time scales – the fast-paced fashion industries of catwalks and look books versus the longer-term architectural store designs.

It’s interesting to respond to changing societal behaviours through the vehicle of fashion, notes Reichert. “Architecture is the opposite. You plan a building over five years and build it over another five years. By the time it’s finished the mindset of society has completely changed.”

A successful fusion of these two disciplines is the ambitious Prada Transformer. Launched in Seoul, Korea in April 2009, the Transformer was a temporary building that hosted a series of cross-cultural exhibitions, screenings and live events. The building consisted of four geometric shapes – circle, cross, hexagon and rectangle wrapped in a translucent membrane – and the pavilion is flipped over by cranes to accommodate each event.

The hexagon shape exhibited Waist Down, an exhibition of skirts designed by Miuccia Prada, while the rectangle had an inclined stage that became a cinema to host a film festival. The Transformer, when flipped, lets walls become floors and floors become walls. Reichert says the Transformer can be a “vision of the future – the place in the centre of the city that becomes very efficient and allows the land to be used in a very economical way.”

 Prada Transformer

Prada Transformer