Salone del Mobile and Fuori Salone are two sides of the same coin: the Milan Design Week. But after years of visiting both of them I can say that only one triggers the urban transformation of the city into a container for exhibitions, events and international cultural exchange, designed to last.
The Milan Design Week is divided in two major events, Salone del Mobile and Fuori Salone, with the same goal: to show everybody what’s going on in the design world. They take place every year at the same time in completely opposite locations. But the contrast is not only geographical. In fact only Fuori Salone has a direct impact on the actual spaces and people of Milan and creates a complete urban regeneration every year.
Salone del Mobile is the serious furniture fair. Restricted to professionals (only the weekend is for common people) and outside the city it is a city of design on its own called Rho Fiera, with a controlled air environment, red carpeted streets and flashy lights. Populated by sweating men in starched suits, suffering women in high heels, lots of business cards and lunches. Visiting it as a professional can take a toll on you, not to mention that the central axis of the exhibition space is over 1 km long!
Fuori Salone is the fun fair. And this image is clearly reflected through the graphics of flyers and maps (see the Ventura Lambrate 2015 booklet) that recall the plan of an amusement park. It is open to everyone, it is everywhere design can be in the city.
The exhibition lanes are the city streets, the pavilions are its buildings and the stands can be someone’s apartment or garage
Marked by pop-up events, more arty and crafty with a lot of non-design, and the most important of all: drinks and aperitivi at every corner to glue it all together. It can be pretty overwhelming too, but the best way is to let the city guide you in a series of impressions and curiosities. You can plan your visit as much as you like but there will always be an urban corner that captures you, a drink that leads to another next door, all topped by somehow design related exhibitions.
Year after year I have witnessed how Fuori Salone has transformed the city to the point of turning it into a design brand in itself: Milano Design Capital. And thanks to the finally successful collaboration between local authorities, furniture fair institution and the event organizers of the respective city parts it has now a digital platform www.fuorisalone.it, common graphics and maps.
The success is undisputed: over 400 official events and new city areas every year competing to be declared the new design destination. Affected by the festive atmosphere, a number of spontaneous pop-up shows spring up on the side giving everyone a chance to exhibit and there will be plenty of eyes to watch. The city becomes literally colonized by design according to nation: Dutch and Scandinavians take over the Ventura Lambrate area, the French are in Zona Tortona and established Italian brands settle in the central area of Brera.
Every year new buildings are encouraged to host a design exhibition and open their gates to the public. The Fuori Salone has clearly become the perfect occasion to refurbish old gems and rediscover forgotten architectural styles around the city. Hidden behind gates and flourishing vegetation,
the architecture becomes an exhibition object on its own
letting flocks of people penetrate its usually secret structure. There are still numerous areas and abandoned buildings out there, waiting to be discovered and become the new mecca of design. In case you’re interested in being a location hunter you can check some out on www.milanolocation.com.
The magic formula requires a piece of design and a space, but the secret is high contrast and accessibility from the street. This is the perfect opportunity for urban spaces to undergo a total metamorphosis. From the greasy garage shop now wannabe showroom, to my confirmation church turned design stage, to the falegnameria di via Palermo, the legendary carpenter that puts away the sawing machines and for one week becomes a shiny container for design, yet inevitably maintaining its roughness. Other traditional urban spaces include La Statale, our public university, that annually hosts open air installations in its renaissance courtyards, or the 1930’s Palazzo della Triennale with its recently renovated roof terrace overlooking the entire city (also in transformation).
Sometimes entire streets become exhibition spaces lending its sidewalks to large-scale design objects that cannot go unnoticed. So even if you’re not into design and you don’t care about free drinks, the Milano Design Week is very contagious.
Container and content
And the more the container is in contrast with the shiny design content, the better it highlights its details, its fragility, its beauty. In return the object gives a new life or a different role to the space, suggesting new ways of using it. This dialogue continues beyond Fuori Salone when design walks out into in the city. When placed out of its usual context (i.e. showroom, furniture fair), design objects can become edgy and crispy because of contrast suggesting that
design is best exhibited where it’s not supposed to be
What is left after the show? The carpentry restores its cutting machines, the garage returns to its regular customers and business hours, the churchyard is swept and made ready for the next confirmation. Whereas some transformations might only be temporary, others will stay and redefine entire city parts activating spaces and areas that will be used throughout the year.
As a born and raised Milanese I feel like saying that Fuori Salone, the alternative fair, is not just about design, but it’s about relationships: between container and content, between people, objects and spaces. It is about creating the right vibration. During a very specific period in time design is allowed to take over private and public spaces, making them accessible and attractive to everyone. It engages with people because it enters spaces of their everyday life and makes them curious about finding design, as in a hide and seek game. This mechanism creates a resonance in the city that is totally missing at the actual furniture fair.
Salone del Mobile, the official fair, in its protected environment outside the city, away from the people “…is a ghetto space, a survival compound, a proto-museum with a direct line to the timeless, a set of conditions, an attitude, a place deprived of location, a reflex to the bald curtain wall, a magic chamber, a concentration of mind, maybe a mistake.” *
Will the upcoming 3 days of Design in Copenhagen from May 28 – 30, which will display the new designs presented in Milano, respond to the same call?
* Brian O’Doherty Inside the White Cube. The Ideology of the Gallery Space – University of California Press, 1999