Bringing the focus back to content, the new kid on the Milan design block Ventura Lambrate was a welcome breath of fresh air during this year’s Design Week program.
“This has totally exceeded my expectations”, says Miriam van der Lubbe who exhibited in Milan this year in Ventura Lambrate. The new design district, initiated by Organisation in Design (Margo Konings & Margriet Vollenberg) was a welcome breath of fresh air to the program of city events during this year’s Milan Design Week. Over thirty designers and design organisations/institutions banded together to exhibit in the industrial area which is located north east of Milan’s city centre.
The atmosphere was relaxed, with presentations all held within walking distance: RCA and Made in Arnhem were situated in old factories, presentations of Miriam van der Lubbe/Niels van Eijk, Zuiderzee museum presenting Kiki van Eijk and Joost van Bleiswijk, Particles Gallery/Aldo Bakker and Design Academy and others were located in exhibition/studio spaces within new apartment developments and courtyards, Autofficina, a group of six young independent Dutch designers, took over a garage and Maarten Baas decided to rent an apartment this year to promote his Real Time iphone app and provide visitors a space to chill out. All drinks costed 99cents to coincide with the price of his app.
The trip out to Ventura Lambrate - around 20-25 minutes by metro - was slightly more of a trek than most presentations in town, but that meant the people who wanted to see those presentations really came there for the design. This is in contrast to the epicentre of the city events Zona Tortona which has a festive atmosphere attracting a huge number of visitors, however the ‘party’ crowds can deter serious design visitors. Tortona has become somewhat of an overcrowded circus over the past few years, increasingly hosting presentations – more PR stunts - that have little to do with design. Zona Tortona was founded ten years ago as an alternative for designers who didn’t want to present in the commercial settings of the fair. In more recent years however, these differences have been slowly blurring over the past few years and the young designers for whom the area once supported simply cannot compete with commercial companies who can more easily afford the ever rising cost of hiring exhibition space there.
Designers have increasingly been looking for more dynamic, calmer and cheaper locations to present their work in Milan. “It was around three years ago that we first started getting reactions from designers about wanting change,” explain Margo & Margriet. “Ten years ago, there was more freedom and creativity in presenting in Zona Tortona. People could do here what they couldn’t do in the fairgrounds. Over time, it became more commercial – which is not necessarily a negative thing. It was also becoming more expensive, also because this is a residential area. With the Tortona presentations, were they more PR stunts and was there really anything new? There was no selection in regards to content, the only selection was made in regards to who had more money. There was no focus on quality.”
So the pair started to search slowly for other options to exhibit, however it’s not so easy to find a whole new design district. “Originally our plan was to take it slow and start a new location in 2011. But by October 2009, all the spaces for Zona Tortona had already been booked, many by very commercial clients. Actually we felt then, that 2010 was the right year for change and that we had to start this immediately.”
Via via, a new location was found that was already becoming popular with Milan’s architects and artists and is the headquarters for iconic design magazine Abitare. Groningen-based designer Jack Brandsma was one of the first to discover the area, and had already been exhibiting there for the past few years. The huge advantages of this new Lambrate area were its abundance of space and affordability – under 100EUR per square metre – compared to Zona Tortona where exhibition space costs on average three to five times more. One disadvantage could be its further location. There was however no shortage of designers who wanted to exhibit there and once the big names were signed on, that made it easier to create a group. With names such as Maarten Baas and the RCA who jumped on board immediately, and others like Design Academy Eindhoven, Zuiderzee museum and Van Eijk & Van der Lubbe, it would be easy to lure visitors out. “For over many years we had been asking for a new area where quality stands above quantity,” Van der Lubbe continues. “When the idea became a reality this year, we immediately said Yes, with the only restriction that if no other presentations would take place, we would not be going as well. In the end, we needed each other to make this area into an attractive and vivid place to go for the visitor.”Weeks before the event itself, Dezeen and Organisation in Design launched a competition (and clever PR stunt) to win free exhibition space. The winners were Eindhoven-based designers with their Copy Nature exhibition.
The presentations in general took a conceptual focus with a strong leaning towards limited edition work. From the new ‘Usuals’ collection of Van der Lubbe/Van Eijk, the poetic pieces of Kiki van Eijk for Zuiderzee museum, the design processes illustrated during Design Dialogues Ten Small Atlases, the quirky kinetic objects of Laikingland and the questioning of Design Academy students to the challenges facing design, the area definitely invited visitors to take a fresh look at design. Belgian designer Bram Boo, part of Belgium’s Z33 exhibition comments, “I like the calmness here. All products here need the space to be taken seriously. It’s about catching the right people. The products here show there’s another way to design than the industrial way. The type of design here is the first step to something else.“ For some, the conceptual focus was perhaps not the right setting this time roung. Weltevree who presented a commercial collection had hoped for more sales. “People who came here didn’t have a commercial eye in mind,” says the label’s co-founder Floris Schoonderbeek. “But it was great that everyone came together to exhibit here and we could make a difference to the week.”
As a fairly new design label, Weltevree is still experimenting with what setting works for them: last year they presented at Spazio Rossana Orlandi and perhaps next year they will head to the Salone itself or Zona Tortona. Orlandi’s gallery and Zona Tortona draw enormous amounts of visitors so if exposure is what the designers want, the city events are still the way to go. Ultimately, designers need to figure out the best way for their work to be presented and if they want to have pure public exposure or do serious design business: Ventura Lambrate could perhaps be more suited to experimental design.
As a sort of debut experiment, Ventura Lambrate was very well received. “For this first year, we deliberately wanted to keep it small this year in relation to locations and presentations to make a name for the area first, and keep the quality,” Margo says. One French journalist commented that it was rather too Dutch focused. “It is intended to be an international area, not a strictly Dutch area. Of course we – Organisation in Design - are located in The Netherlands, so Dutch design was a natural starting point,” Margriet adds. The pair emphasise that they do not want to compete with Zona Tortona. “Our aim is not to be the new Zona Tortona, we can co-exist with them. Our aim is to give more space to the studios, and opportunities for the designers to be more creative. We wanted to start over again – it’s good to have a change!”
Main image and images 1-2: Autofficina, photography: Beppe Brancato
Image 3: Scuola Politecnica di Design
Image 4: Gronicles
Image 5,6: Copy Nature
Image 7: Zuiderzee museum, Kiki van Eijk, photography: Ruy Teixeira
Images 8,9: Van der Lubbe/Van Eijk
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