Fondazione Prada : : Curating spaces and textures : : OMA \ Milan

Ayesha Sabri, ARCHITECTEM Milan based contributor, visited OMA designed Fondazione Prada and presents a visual narrative of the textures and spaces. The images are accompanied by her thoughts about the design interspersed by statements from the architect, Rem Koolhaas.

The Fondazione Prada has dominated the Milanese art and architecture scene since it opened. On visiting the Fondazione, you are greeted by a dynamic dialogue between pre-existing industrial structures and OMA’s recent interventions. A visual treat, pops of color, simplistic signage, and an overwhelming array of textures and surface treatments.

“The Fondazione is not a preservation project and not a new architecture. Two conditions that are usually kept separate, here confront each other in a state of permanent interaction – offering an ensemble of fragments that will not congeal into a single image, or allow any part to dominate the others. New, old, horizontal, vertical, wide, narrow, white, black, open, enclosed — all these contrasts establish the range of oppositions that define the new Fondazione. By introducing so many spatial variables, the complexity of the architecture will promote an unstable, open programming, where art and architecture will benefit from each other’s challenges.” – Rem Koolhaas

Located in the peripheries of Milan, surrounded by an industrial context, the complex was a gin distillery dating back to 1910. The rustic language of the complex, now in conversation with OMA’s modernistic architectural sensibilities.

The surfeit juxtaposition of textures might be slightly disconcerting for some, but for the greater part creates a chromatic delight. Adding to the symphony is the diversity of spatial arrangements offered by the design.

“It is surprising that the enormous expansion of the art system has taken place in a reduced number of typologies for art’s display. To apparently everybody’s satisfaction, the abandoned industrial space has become art’s default preference — attractive because its predictable conditions do not challenge the artist’s intentions — enlivened occasionally with exceptional architectural gestures. The new Fondazione Prada is projected in a former industrial complex too, but one with an unusual diversity of spatial environments. To this repertoire, we are adding three new buildings — a large exhibition pavilion, a tower, and a cinema — so that the new Fondazione Prada represents a genuine collection of architectural spaces in addition to its holdings in art.” – Rem Koolhaas

The complex aims to expand the repertoire of spatial typologies in which art can be exhibited. The project consists of seven existing buildings, and three new structures: Podium, a space for temporary exhibitions; Cinema, a multimedia auditorium; and Torre, a nine-story permanent exhibition space for displaying the foundation’s collection and activities


While the Podium and cinema have been open to the public, some of the areas of the complex were closed off in preparation for future exhibitions during my visit.The Torre is also yet to be completed; a nine-story exhibition space that will host the collections from the Foundation over the years.

Ominously named the Haunted House, a gold leaf clad 4-storey tower immediately draws attention. The unusual exterior treatment is delicate, yet with a significant impact on the surroundings. Reflected natural light from the tower, taints the complex with different hues during the day. A seemingly average trope of architectural design, the tower, transforms into a precious treasure-like element. The narrow building hosts a suitably narrower staircase, leading to the permanent installations by Robert Gober and Louise Bourgeois. The intentionally [mis]placed contents of the exhibitions, find a muted interior that does not compete with them.

The Cisterna, accessible from a lower section of the complex has three rooms that currently house sculptures in formations reminiscent of molecular structures. Bronze heads of historical and contemporary figures such as Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud, appear to be in conversation.

Demonstrating Koolhaas’s concept of diversified spaces, the double ceiling height allows for artists to occupy a space drowned by natural light seeping in through fenestrations on the higher level as well as sunroofs above.

The galleria Sud flow into the Deposito, another fairly large space with a fair-faced concrete backdrop.

Walking into Bar Luce, the Fondazione’s bar/café, you appear to have landed onto a film set from the 50s or 60s. The interior is designed by Wes Anderson, famous for movies like The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Royal Tenenbaums and the Life Aquatic. The film director creates a retro feel with his signature and distinct palette of pastels, formica furniture, veneered wooden wall panels, vintage arcade tables and ceiling treatments.




“I tried to make it a bar I would want to spend my own non-fictional afternoons in.” – Wes Anderson









The design creates a campus of post-industrial and contemporary structures, covering a spectrum of typologies; intimate spaces as well as expansive ones, public spaces facing the city, curated to open into courtyards leading to enclosed more private exhibits. Sitting on the periphery of the city, through its design and content, the complex in fact, manages to be a catalyst for cultural stimuli for the city of Milan.

Architect: OMA – Rem Koolhaas, Chris van Duijn, Federico Pompignoli
Local architects: Alvisi Kirimoto & Partners, Atelier Verticale
Scenography: Ducks Sceno
Prada engineering director: Maurizio Ciabatti
Prada project leader: Maurizio Ciabatti

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