Earlier this month, Milan witnessed the gilded opening of Fondazione Prada.
Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas’s studio Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA)—in collaboration with the firm’s research arm AMO—masterminded the brand’s new art complex, which comprises seven former distillery buildings built before World War I and three new structures designed by OMA, including a theatre, gallery, and still-under-construction tower. Crowned by a gold-leaf-clad pavilion, the foundation’s new complex will house a cache of art that includes works by Louise Bourgeois, Robert Gober, and Roman Polanski, and more.
For an added bit of whimsy, the foundation’s new digs also features a Wes Anderson-designed café, Bar Luce, which takes stylistic cues from mid-20th century Milanese eateries and watering holes. It promises to be a real must-visit destination in the Italian capital.
In the works for more than a decade, the Fondazione opens with ‘Serial Classic’, an exhibit curated by Salvatore Settis, and lives up to every bit of hype that has swirled around it. The project is massively ambitious—10 different buildings packed with a dazzling selection of contemporary and modern art sprawl like a labyrinth across 19,000 sqm—and is just as satisfying.
Visually, the Fondazione Prada is an intriguing hodge-podge of different buildings, styles, spatial sizes, creative themes and time periods. Shiny mirrored surfaces battle against raw concrete interiors; tiny, intimate rooms contrast with vacuous warehouse-sized hangars. Without a typical plan, the discovery process unfolds without a pre-ordained path, though a stop in the Wes Anderson-designed cafe, wrapped in tromp l’oeil wallpaper recreating Milan’s famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, would be an excellent place to start.
A former distillery, the location features a disparate mix of seven structures that date back to 1910, plus three new ones (one of which, called Torre, is still under construction) all set within a tall-walled, art-filled campus. Hundreds of pieces of art have been sourced from both Fondazione Prada’s private collection as well as non-permanent exhibits and site specific installations.
Set in the southern section of the city across from bleak railroad tracks, Fondazione Prada’s neighbourhood is in a decidedly un-cool part of town. The classic Milanese might not be pounding on the surrounding real estate, but the space itself—which unfolds like a creative village with charming public spaces and open-air courtyards—is sure to become a lure, not just for the city’s resident design class but also for top art and architecture scene-makers around the world.