Interior Aldo Rossi exhibition

Four Design Destinations to Supplement Salone

Away from the sprawling furniture fair, Salone del Mobile offers the cultural centers of Milan an occasion to show off to design-minded visitors from around the world.

In Milan, the 60th anniversary edition of Salone del Mobile was a true cause for celebration: notwithstanding a slim-downed version of the fair last fall, the June debut marked the formal return of the world’s largest design event after an extended hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The excitement was not confined to the halls of the fair itself out in suburban Rho, simultaneous happenings occurred all over the city—including a number of parallel exhibitions and installations—greeting culturally-minded visitors from all over the world.

interior Aldo Rossi exhibition
Top and above: an exhibition of Aldo Rossi’s design work on view at the Museo del Novecento in Milan, exhibition design was done by New York design firm Morris Adjmi. COURTESY FRANCESCO CARLINI

Just steps from the Duomo, the Museo del Novecento was playing host to a stunning retrospective of the work of pioneering architect and designer Aldo Rossi. Featuring over 300 objects, drawings, models, and more, Aldo Rossi: Design 1960-1997 bears out the extraordinary talent of the late Italian maestro, with pieces ranging from lush textiles (patterned with his famous Modena cemetery plan) to mockups for his celebrated kitchen and homewares (including an oversized model of his famed espresso maker for Alessi). The subtle curation by Chiara Spangaro, combined with an ultra-elegant installation scheme from New York-based Morris Adjmi, imbues the whole show with a properly wistful, nostalgic air, just the kind of mood Rossi himself was so adept at conjuring.

floating garden viewed from above
A floating garden was designed by Stefano Boeri Interiors for footwear brand Timberland. COURTESY STEFANO BOERI INTERIORS

A different, more mind-bending mood was in evidence across town at the Floating Forest, a striking bit of pop-up urbanism from the office of Stefano Boeri Interiors. Jutting out into the Darsena del Naviglio, one of the last remaining traces of Milan’s once-teeming network of canals, Boeri’s team created a gang-planked platform topped by a miniature park teeming with over six hundred trees, shrubs, and hanging vines. The piece, sponsored by footwear brand Timberland, is meant as a statement on the potential integration between natural and artificial landscapes. In practice, it bears a striking resemblance to the new Little Island Park in Manhattan, albeit on a less obtrusive scale and with reflective flanks that cause the structure to effectively disappear, producing the uncanny illusion that the forest really does float.

memphis style shelving unit
Carlton by Ettore Sottsass COURTESY TRIENNALE MILANO
memphis style shelving unit

Never shy about celebrating itself, Milan kept the focus on its own place in the global design cannon with the show “Memphis Again” at the city’s Triennale exhibition hall in the leafy Parco Sempione. The sprawling tribute to the hometown design heroes of the 1980s has plenty of goodies for insiders—right down to the title, presumably a reference to the Bob Dylan song from which the Memphis Group took their name—while providing the uninitiated with a year-by-year tour of the collaborators’ innovative work, showing their outrageously stylized tables, chairs, and more in chronological order. Sensitively curated by Christoph Radl, the exhibition bears out the full depth of the group’s collective talent, featuring work by everyone from founder Ettore Sottsass to American PoMo legend Michael Graves to the protean Japanese architect Arata Isosaki, all in a suitably Memphian environment full of informative media displays and atmospheric lighting.

water heater
Makio Hasuike’s “Giancaldo” water heater COURTESY COMPASSO D’ORO
illuminated mirror
Ugo Pollice’s illuminated mirror COURTESY COMPASSO D’ORO

With all there is to do at the fair itself, it can be hard to make time to take in all the rest Milan has to offer—but conveniently, Salone brought some of the city’s cultural offerings into the giant FieraMilano facility this year. Organized by Milan’s ADI Design Museum, “Design in the Kitchen/Design in the Bathroom” is a pair of exhibitions-in-miniature highlighting historical interior schemes from some of the most innovative figures of the last century. The first half of the show, located inside the EuroCucine cookware section of the fair, comprises a suite of exquisitely detailed models from the collection of the Milan Polytechnic Institute for landmark kitchen concepts, including the famed Frankfurt kitchen from 1926 and Joe Colombo’s Minikitchen module from 1963; the second half, in the hall of the Salone del Bagno, features full-sized fixtures like Makio Hasuike’s “Giancaldo” water heater and Ugo Pollice’s illuminated mirror. In a setting as commercial as the convention center, with thousands of buyers and builders dashing from big-brand booth to big-brand booth, the two little exhibitions were a welcome reprieve, a reminder of the rich cultural offerings waiting back in the city.

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