The design of the “Milan model” – Interview with Stefano Boeri pt.1

Tommaso Berra · 1 year ago

What role do design and architecture play in defining the much-debated concept of the “Milan model”? How does it fit into what has been described by some scholars as an “unprecedented marketing campaign,” capable of shifting the social and urban balances of a city and now arrived (?) at a point of no return? So many questions related to the role of design for Milan are being explored in these days of Design Week through talks, events and installations, to others asked for an answer to one of the key figures for design and for Milan, the archistar Stefano Boeri, president of the Milan Triennale and signature of some of the city’s iconic projects such as the Bosco Verticale.

What does design week mean for Milan today? And for Europe?

Design Week has been and remains an indispensable event for Milan, just as Milan is the indispensable place of reference when it comes to design. For us, this week has always been a great reconfirmation in Milan’s role; even in the most crisis-ridden moments, the Salone has represented a push, a conviction that energy and work from all over the world would find a point of condensation to be released forcefully throughout the city. And this is also Milan, one of the few cities in the world that is able to find an extraordinary space, such as that of the fair, and to offer a city that transforms itself, becoming completely open and permeable on the ground floors.

And I find that these two conditions coexist because of their individuality: the Salone and the Fuorisalone, Rho Pero and the Milan of public spaces, venues and courtyards; they are exceptional precisely because they are so strong one independently of the other.
On the other hand, we must never forget that energies come to the city from all over the world, from very important territories, and without the network of districts, of small and medium-sized companies, there would be no Salone or the history of Italian design. We represent the tip of the iceberg, and we are indebted to all the submerged part.

What would change in the way design is told during this event?

I had the opportunity to curate Supersalone, the special edition of Salone del Mobile 2021, which was in fact the first major public event post-pandemic. Together with the team of Stefano Boeri Interiors, which I founded with architect Giorgio DonĂ , and with the co-curators-Andrea Caputo, Studio Folder, Anniina Koivu, Lukas Wegwerth, and Maria Cristina Didero-we imagined transforming the Salone not into the classic trade fair exhibition but into a big collective event, with talks, meetings, conviviality spaces, video projections, and areas dedicated to Italian gastronomic excellence. The layout was not organized by traditional pavilions but from a fixed-but flexible and customizable-form common to all producers and designers, large and small: democratic, in the name of design, participation and sustainability. One of the main features of the exhibition involved the use of digital tools, which accompanied the products.

The Supersalone, diluted in space but dense in products and activities, was a success. With these projects we hope to give a sign of hope and vision for the near future of the Italian and international exhibition industry. In the same perspective, we know that nothing will be able to replace the visual, tactile, sensory experience of the exhibition lived in presence, but the implementation of the virtual seems to me to be an increasingly close scenario, complementing (and not replacing) the event.

In terms of sustainability, in what aspects can design and architecture still improve?

In so many ways, no doubt. Today we are experiencing epochal change-at the level of geopolitics, climate, international relations, social transformations-that is also reflected accordingly in our work as architects, planners, urban planners. It is up to us to anticipate the changes taking place; we have a specific responsibility to design the next places of living – whether public or private – in relation to the anthropogenic impact on the Planet and the macro-transformations taking place. Thinking about new ways of inhabiting the homes and cities of the future, in a perspective of greater integration with the environment, less consumption of resources – I am thinking of land and energy consumption, but water consumption is also a key issue today – is the challenge that we must increasingly set ourselves and that design and architecture must take up with the utmost urgency.

With a glimpse into an indefinite future, Stefano Boeri imagines that nature may indeed come to take over the city, creating an urban forest?

Control, in my opinion, is the wrong word. By now we know that cities play an important role in shaping the future of our Planet, being responsible for 75 percent of CO2 emissions. And in cities we need to take action. Big cities have an opportunity to become part of the solution to climate change and the environmental issues that are affecting our everyday lives by integrating nature, safeguarding existing nature, and increasing the number of forests, not leaving them in complete control.

The paradigm shift we must undertake, which sees us in control of an untamable nature, must not lead to anti-anthropocentrism, to a reversal, but to cohabitation. The issue of renewable energy is no longer enough; it must be coupled with the issue of urban forestry. Indeed, trees and forests could break this cycle: they absorb nearly 40 percent of the fossil fuel emissions produced in large part by our cities each year. And while a single tree can bring significant benefits to the city and its inhabitants, an urban forest can be a tremendous help in improving the quality of health and life. In this sense, Vertical Forests would become one – not the only one certainly – of the solutions to implement urban forestry: in a common vision, also promoted by policies and incentives, urban gardens could be created, new parks and gardens could be created, city roofs could be turned into lawns or city walls into plant frontages, and courtyards and empty spaces into green oases – just see on this innovative urban agricultural systems in Canberra, Australia, community gardens in Berlin, Germany.

Therefore, on the one hand, we need to act collectively to transform the economy, the relationship with the environment, the speed of movement of our bodies in space and time, and the way we design urban space or buildings; on the other hand, designing with trees, bringing trees into cities (and re-establishing a relationship with humans and living nature) is undoubtedly an important first step.

The design of the “Milan model” – Interview with Stefano Boeri pt.1
The design of the “Milan model” – Interview with Stefano Boeri pt.1
The design of the “Milan model” – Interview with Stefano Boeri pt.1
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