by Jerry ElengicalJun 01, 2022
We predicted it as one of the must-visit locations for Milan Design Week 2022, and Alcova proves to be one of them. Our Sunday walk at the Parco Piazza d'Armi – hosting the event for its second year – was intense, and at the same time, relaxing and pleasant. This is due to the lush location, the ever-changing scenery, and the right combination of exhibitors: galleries, companies, cultural institutions, research centres and independent designers. We took advantage of the preview reserved for journalists to avoid the huge expected crowds and to talk to Valentina Ciuffi, curator, design consultant and co-founder of Alcova with Joseph Grima.
The first topic is that of exhibitors, which has grown considerably this year – 80 realities compared to 50 in the 2021 edition for Supersalone – but whose selection is characterised by the usual heterogeneity.
"Here you can find Solid Nature, a Dutch mega-company working with OMA, alongside Muthesius Academy Kiel, a research institute, and Polcha, a group of independent French designers. We put together Laufen, which is a leading sanitary-ware and bathroom products company, and the work of Studio Plastique, which with Fornace Brioni produces tiles made of glass from discarded ovens and microwaves," Valentina Ciuffi told us.
Being able to involve big brands and get them out of their comfort zone is not banal work. Similar to the project done by NM3 for Laufen is, for example, that of XL EXTRALIGHT® together with the Parasite 2.0 architectural studio (which we have talked about here). In both cases, the finished product design takes second place, while processes, workmanship, intrinsic material properties, design horizons and corporate values emerge. All of this also has to deal with a context that is much more than characteristic.
“Fifty per cent of Alcova’s success for me is due to the choice of location. This tells a bit of the story of the Fuorisalone: back in the 1980s, Sottsass and associates, for economic but also scenographic reasons, opted to work outside the fair, which is a classic format with precise rules. We no longer believe in design exhibited in the trade fair booth, nor in excessively classic locations. In both cases you risk a flattening effect. Our spaces are always very varied: industrial, domestic, gardens, hospital rooms, boiler rooms... Our first location, the former Giovanni Cova panettone factory, had similar characteristics. This variety is a crucial ingredient to tell even very different proposals in an alternative way. The selection we make is varied, but united by identification with our ideas,” said Ciuffi.
Another characteristic of Alcova, specified in the communication campaign and emphasised by Ciuffi herself, is its itinerant nature: the first edition in 2018 was held at Cova (which then gave the initiative its name), in the NoLo neighbourhood (a contraction of North of Loreto, in the north of Milan). The following year the Fabbrica Sassetti was added in the Isola district, a stone’s throw from Stefano Boeri’s Bosco Verticale. In 2021 the area changed completely, to land in the south-west of Milan, while this year another exhibition building was added, expanding the previous location.
“All these places are united by the fact that nature has taken over some of the existing space. This is basically a park inhabited by lots of animals, from pheasants to squirrels.”
Ciuffi and Grima’s great location scouting skills have inspired many new initiatives and prompted even big brands to look to Milan's suburbs: two emblematic examples are Baranzate Atelier, which is even outside the City of Milan, or Flos in Via Orobia, near the Fondazione Prada headquarters in the south of the city.
According to Ciuffi, “Milan is a city that still has so much to discover. We work hard to explore new spots all the time. I think there has been a good outward movement in recent years. It is a general trend that does not only concern the design world. However, we think it has to be done sensibly and fairly, and we also reflect on the possible negative side effects of what we do. For example, with the first edition we unintentionally contributed to the rising costs of the area. There we had the dream of buying the former factory and turning it into a design hub. Obviously we did not have the economic strength there to compete with other property developers with speculative perspectives. Since then, we have been considering what the owners intend to do with the site. It is no coincidence that the following choice was made in such a way as to make this kind of phenomenon impossible. (the former Military Hospital is state-owned and managed by the Italian Army, ed.).”
For Marshall McLuhan "the medium is the message", while in this case we can say that "the context is the message". Without in any way detracting from the projects on display, sometimes it is right to pay homage to their framework and highlight the work of those who take us to magnificent places unknown even to the locals. Excessive congestion is perhaps the only risk for the fair, which makes the quality of the experience a key element. The final question is: can the “over-success” of the initiative be the downfall of Alcova itself?
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.