Paolo Casati on the intertwining roots of Brera Design District and Fuorisalone

Co-founder of Fuorisalone, Brera Design District, and Studiolabo, Paolo Casati engages in a perceptive conversation with STIR on the events’ jubilant return to Milan Design Week 2022.

by Anmol AhujaPublished on : Jun 10, 2022

Interacting with Paolo Casati, who runs his concept and communication design studio from Milan, was akin to unnerving the very pulse of the city that gets throbbing from the time Milan plays host to Salone del Mobile.Milano and its various other design districts for a full week. The anticipation for the eponymous week and preparations to host it following over two years of lockdown-induced delays began well into the beginning of the year, with press offices buzzing with projects, and Milan itself donning a new energy. While the realm of Italian architecture, especially modern, has been of particularly noteworthy interest, with Milan as its fulcrum, the urban reformation of sorts that Milan undergoes in the wake of Salone is an entirely interesting phenomenon to be witness to. Along the same vein, and through the course of this conversation, one can only arrive at a rather naturalistic, tacit conclusion. The man at the helm of such projects as Fuorisalone and Brera - given the sheer scale and scope of them - must harbour an immense love and an unparalleled understanding of the city and its functionings. Through compressing the city’s nexus to districts, streets, crevices, to even individual showrooms and galleries, the pulse of Milano, as I mentioned earlier, is revealed to be a dynamic one, and a constant presence with Casati in formulating these expansive programs.

  • Brera Design District, along with all of Salone del Mobile.Milano, returns to its original in-person format after a gap of two years | Paolo Casati Interview | Paolo Casati | STIRworld
    Brera Design District, along with all of Salone del Mobile.Milano, returns to its original in-person format after a gap of two years Image: Chiara Venegoni
  • STIR in conversation with Paolo Casati, co-founder of Fuorisalone, Brera Design District, and Studiolabo | Paolo Casati Interview | Paolo Casati | STIRworld
    The Brera Design District is identified by Casati as the “first and most important design district in the world” Image: Chiara Venegoni
  • Capturing the vibrant streets and signages of the Brera Design District | Paolo Casati Interview | Paolo Casati | STIRworld
    Capturing the vibrant streets and signages of the Brera Design District Image: Chiara Venegoni

Two things in particular stand out among this years' offerings from Fuorisalone, and especially so from the Brera Design District. The first could rather widely be applied to the entire fair too, as Salone wholly embraced the digital revolution that took place while a percentage of the global populace was locked up. The opening up of interactive phygital paradigms in even how the exhibits came to be created, and not just displayed, meant the heralding of an exciting space for Salone and the design world. The second would be the Fuorisalone Award, debuting this year, serving as a people’s choice, and a gesture of gratitude to everyone investing in the global event. All this, and much more about what makes this year’s edition particularly special, the genesis of Fuorisalone and Brera Design District, the significance of the design world coming together again, new paradigms explored by Salone, and the hybrid future in our exclusive interview with Paolo Casati.

The Fuorisalone and Brera Design District both tend to embrace the phygital realm in this year’s edition of Salone | Paolo Casati Interview | Paolo Casati | STIRworld
The Fuorisalone and Brera Design District both tend to embrace the phygital realm in this year’s edition of Salone Image: ©Valcucine

Anmol Ahuja: What would you say is the most special thing about returning to a full-scaled Milan Design Week, and in particular Fuorisalone and Brera Design District this year?

Paolo Casati: We are at our fifth edition in 24 months – we started with Fuorisalone Digital in June 2020. In a moment of great bewilderment caused by the pandemic, we thought about how to change our point of view on the project by investing, as much as possible, on our digital side. And from that moment on, we have never stopped.

For us, the coming Design Week represents the end of a journey and the beginning of a new cycle, in which Milan, with the Salone del Mobile and the Fuorisalone, confirms its world leadership by proposing a model that, while returning to the physical, in-person full-scale event, integrates digital in its various forms, expanding its audience even further. At the centre of the projects and installations of the Fuorisalone, and in particular of the Brera Design District, is the theme of sustainability, implied in all its aspects and forms, with a new awareness that allows us to go beyond the logic of greenwashing by proposing tangible projects and solutions.

We expect to go back to meeting people, reactivate relationships, and share experiences with the city and the many events as a backdrop. Digital allowed us to keep the interest alive and allow business to develop, but our world is made up of relationships that only the Milan Design Week can generate.

  • Momentum by Stark at Brera Design District | Paolo Casati Interview | Paolo Casati | STIRworld
    Momentum by Stark at Brera Design District Image: ©Stark
  • Porsche’s The Art of Dreams, ‘Everywhereness’ Artwork | Paolo Casati Interview | Paolo Casati | STIRworld
    Porsche’s The Art of Dreams, ‘Everywhereness’ Artwork Image: Courtesy of Ruby Barber

Anmol: You share a very intrinsic relationship with the city of Milan. How does that love formulate into Fuorisalone and the Brera district?

Paolo: I have always been linked to Milan, in all its times and periods. Ever since I was a child, I saw the city of Milan as a destination reached and not as a departure point, and starting off from this strong bond, I decided to build the basis for developing a profession and a project that today is one of the city's most important and recognised manifestos.

The Fuorisalone project began in the year 2000, not by chance, in a University classroom at the School of Design at the Politecnico di Milano, in response to the need to have a guide to the city and its events that could exploit the logic of digital to share the events in real-time. The feedback from the public and insiders allowed us to invest all our energies in the project, dedicating ourselves to it with a passion that still remains and is renewed and nurtured every year as the projects continue to evolve.

Brera Design District started in 2010, after 10 years of experience in different parts of the city, allowing us to understand the importance of territorial marketing (Milan is in fact the only case in Italy where this occurs in connection with real estate logics). Hence, I finally focused on the area of the city to which I have always been the most attached to. My father was born in Via (della) Moscova; my first job was in a start-up in Via Brera; I could only give continuity to this path by taking an office in Via Palermo and celebrating Brera as the first and most important design district in the world.

  • True to Nature | Paolo Casati Interview | Paolo Casati | STIRworld
    True to Nature Image: Courtesy of Signature Kitchen Suite
  • True Pink modular furniture at Milano| Paolo Casati Interview | Paolo Casati | STIRworld
    True Pink modular furniture at Milano Image: Courtesy of USM

Anmol: Tell us more about your practice, Studiolabo. In what ways do you think your experience with communication design trickles into developing the extensive programmes for both Fuorisalone and Brera?

Paolo: Studiolabo actually originated after the launch of the Fuorisalone project, which was and still is a continuous laboratory of experimentation that allowed us to understand what it meant to do communication design and develop communication projects that range between the physical and digital.

The experience gained from this project was put in front of our customers, offering up-to-date services and advice.

Anmol: Between Fuorisalone's theme, 'Between Space and Time' and Brera's 'Designing the present and choosing the future', do we see a unifying theme or common topic being addressed?

Paolo: Fuorisalone launched the theme and Brera interpreted it, making it its own, with respect to the design world's vision and ability to develop solutions. Designing means "casting forward" thinking therefore about the consequences of the choices made by each and everyone of us. This is an important message that we hope to pass-on to everyone. The theme stems from the reflection promoted by COP26 and is meant to be food for thought on all that we are experiencing, in different areas. Where there is no project, there is no future.

  • Habits, Sincronia| Paolo Casati Interview | Paolo Casati | STIRworld
    Habits, Sincronia Image: ©Superstudio
  • Floating Forest by Stefano Boeri Interiors | Paolo Casati Interview | Paolo Casati | STIRworld
    Floating Forest by Stefano Boeri Interiors Image: © Timberland

Anmol: With Brera emphasising much on eco-futurism this year, what do you think will be one innovation that would change the design world considerably in the near future?

Paolo: Very complicated question! I think the goal is to think about the present in order to be able to have a future. Every action today, produces an effect tomorrow with obvious consequences. Design must proceed by scenarios, increasingly focusing on the ability to develop necessary solutions and not products. Designers must think locally and research on alternative materials and product life cycles directly from production sites.

For many designers, talking about sustainability in the design world is a paradox, because design, the real kind, has always been meant to last and icons have been passed on to us with a spirit of preservation and recovery; the problem is all the rest. This includes mass production designed for use and nothing else, without design culture, and without quality. This I hope we can do without in the future.

Anmol: NFTs and digital designs are a major new addition to Fuorisalone this year. How do you think the design world is reacting to this shift? How are you embracing this addition?

Paolo: We are studying them, it is definitely an opportunity, it is a new world that dialogues with our context creating new scenarios, living in continuity and not in opposition. It represents an evolution and as such it must be welcomed and then evaluated, in addition to the novelty effect and forms of speculation, the design world must observe these changes, study the processes and evaluate the models of application. As every innovative model, it needs time to be understood and we must proceed without haste and the fear of missing out on opportunities: everything needs time and space, as our Fuorisalone theme reminds us.

  • KAOI at Fuorisalone | Paolo Casati Interview | Paolo Casati | STIRworld
    KAOI at Fuorisalone Image: ©Isola Design
  • Masterly - The Dutch in Milano | Paolo Casati Interview | Paolo Casati | STIRworld
    Masterly - The Dutch in Milano Image: ©Masterly, Fuorisalone

Anmol: Pre and post-pandemic, Milan Design Week has seen a drastic transformation. Do you think the resultant popularity of Fuorisalone.it connected you with more international audience?

Paolo: We took the experience of the pandemic as an opportunity to develop an evolutionary model of our platform. Without this catastrophic event, we would never have reached this level of competence and complexity of the system that reached almost 900k people in two years, worldwide. The legacy that this experience leaves us with is very important, because for us it was not a pause, but an important investment that today completes the Fuorisalone offer and complements the event that has returned to the pre-COVID format, creating a unique platform that is active all year round and a point of reference for the showcasing and sharing of design, at 360°. This evolution has strengthened the relationship with international media and partners, seen the registration of the brand in China and Japan, and the opening of the new Wechat and Weibo channels, bringing our content to the right place, at the right time.

  • Certosa Initiative, Milano 2022, Statue Right Night | Paolo Casati Interview | Paolo Casati | STIRworld
    Certosa Initiative, Milano 2022, Statue Right Night Image: © Certosa Initiative
  • La Casa delle Cose, installation | Paolo Casati Interview | Paolo Casati | STIRworld
    La Casa delle Cose, installation Image: © Casavo
  • Aibelle, Department of International Trade Promotion (DITP) at Superstudio | Paolo Casati Interview | Paolo Casati | STIRworld
    Aibelle, Department of International Trade Promotion (DITP) at Superstudio Image: ©Superstudio

Anmol: Salone brings together the top design talent from across the world, and yet, the event or programme cannot be replicated anywhere across the world. What would you say makes this global event so rooted and site specific?

Paolo: Fuorisalone and Design Week with the Salone del Mobile have always represented a unique and unrepeatable moment. I like to describe this event as the result of an alchemy involving a mix of ingredients that can only be found here due to various factors: environmental, cultural, social, and geographical. Many have tried to replicate the event, discrediting Milan and trying to shift the focus of the event to other cities, but they have not succeeded; in fact they have achieved the opposite effect, strengthening the identity of the project and the pride of its many authors.

The fact that it started as a spontaneous event and has grown and changed over time, withstanding so many changes, makes it flexible and democratic. Believing that we could clone this format, simply by applying its basic rules, such as many events in different parts of the city open to the public, is like thinking that a face is the mere sum of its parts. It’s crazy!

  • ‘Between Space and Time’, official theme for Fuorisalone 2022 | Paolo Casati Interview | Paolo Casati | STIRworld
    ‘Between Space and Time’, official theme for Fuorisalone 2022 Image: © Fuorisalone
  • Official logo of the Fuorisalone Award, debuting this year | Paolo Casati Interview | Paolo Casati | STIRworld
    Official logo of the Fuorisalone Award, debuting this year Image: © Fuorisalone

Anmol: Fuorisalone Award 2022 will debut this year. What would you say is its most significant aspect with respect to the design world?

Paolo: The award is intended as a gesture of gratitude addressed both to the companies that invest in this event and to the public that attends it, making it unique and special. This is why the award will be pointed out by the public, according to a simple principle: that of memorability of the installation. That is, the capacity to involve and relate to the public. I am very curious to understand what will be chosen by the public, and what will be the most relevant and attractive aspects, it could tell us a lot about what is the shared thinking and expectations from all of us, which are often very different from what drives companies' production.

STIR takes you on a Milanese sojourn! Experience Salone del Mobile and all the design districts - 5vie, Brera, Fuorisalone, Isola, Zona Tortona, and Durini - with us. STIR’s coverage of Milan Design Week 2022, Meanwhile in Milan showcases the best exhibits, moods, studios, events, and folks to look out for. We are also excited to announce our very own STIR press booth at Salone del Mobile - Hall 5/7 S.14, Fiera Milano RHO.

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