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Milan is not an island, even though it is well furnished. The challenges after the success of “Design Week”

Milan, the capital, Milan, the locomotive, Milan which should fly so that “Italy can fly”, Milan, the smart city but also the start up town, the international Milan and Milan like Chicago, Milan which is more and more European, and on the other hand less and less Milan-Italy. In the golden age of Milan, definitions are wasted and in any case they resonate, frequent and satisfied, precisely in the wake of the outstanding success of Design Week linked to the Salone del Mobile, with 434 thousand visitors, 26% more than the previous year, record sales for exhibitors, with peaks of order increases in the range of 30%. So Milan, the great?

The usual concreteness of culture and of “Milanese politeness” prevents it from boasting this success with a triumphant air of pride. And in the days following the great international event that once again enhances the competitiveness of all things Made in Italy, the Milanese stand with their feet firmly on the ground and repeat the statement that Milan can be anything except a phenomenon, an exception, a place of lone records. Milan is not an island.

“No man is an island,” wrote John Donne, the 17th Century English poet (an exemplary verse, for its evocative beauty and moral force, borrowed precisely in these months with communicative intelligence by a chain of supermarkets called Conad). Imagine if one can reduce to an island a city which uses its name, Mediolanum – the earth in the middle – as a distinctive feature of a place open to trade and relations, market, a crossroads of conversations, a virtuous circle of trade and work. Milan, therefore, is inclusive, supportive, welcoming and friendly. From the era of Ambrose to the modern day, continuing to prefigure a future of European “centrality”, of a round metropolis, in other words one that is careful to avoid sharp edges that hurt and exclude.

The Design Week that is split between the Salone del Mobile international furniture exhibition and the “Fuorisalone” collateral events dotted across the entire city with over 1360 different events, bore evident testimony to this. Design that is represented, narrated, imagined, planned in millions of conversations goes beyond the traditional boundaries of furnishings and involves other industrial worlds, from the bicycle to the car, from services to light and sound systems that involve new living conditions, including sustainable mobility. The strong sign is innovation. The challenges are moving between Milan and the world.

This design, which is innovative, and to use a word that has become compulsory, i.e. “sustainable” (that is to say, sensitive to the human condition of a better life) is also packed with environmental and ethical values, for example posing itself the problem of what to do with plastic, an extraordinary industrial product (with solid Italian roots, if we think of Moplen resulting from the research by Giulio Natta, Nobel Prize winner for Chemistry in 1963 and from experiences in the Pirelli and Montecatini laboratories) with which innovative design and pop art thrived from the Sixties until the present day.

Plastic has represented modernity and the convenience of consumption and habits (in many cases also with a certain attention to beauty) but today, with 300 million tonnes produced throughout the world which are very difficult to dispose of, it constitutes an environmental problem that is near dramatic (“Robinson”, the weekly cultural magazine published with “La Repubblica”, dedicated almost the entire issue to this problem last Sunday and Antonio Gnoli outlined the essential issues in a great interview with Renato De Fusco, Theorist of design and planning).

Can design – which adored plastic – today suggest technologies, shapes, materials that will enable us to overcome the hurdle of all things “disposable”? Is there a responsible design, from a civil and circular economy? The issue is open. Indeed, in Milan, city of industrial culture and high chemical quality, the issue can be addressed. The Polytechnic university, with its own specialisation courses on design themes, could be an ideal place to start.

Because this is also what Milan is about. A hybrid place of knowledge and technical skills, of “polytechnical culture”, of constant dialogue between humanism and science, between technology and philosophy. History and the news offer constant testimony to this.

Milan, in the metropolitan dimension, is an industrial city, owing to its century and a half long experience and owing to its contemporary vocation. But it was never a company town like Turin, a mono-culture industrialist focusing on Ford. In the course of the Twentieth century, its entrepreneurs have instead always worked on several communicating projects, combining industry and finance, manufacturing and services, trade and university, without ever forgetting culture, publishing, communication (the very story of the “Corriere della Sera” newspapers and publishers, large and popular, but also small and ultra-sophisticated ones, confirm this). Today, the international attractiveness of Milan is based on these features. And they can also be used as leverage for a development that involves the rest of the country.

The entire Salone del Mobile affair demonstrates its validity. The projects by the designers, who look at Milan from all over the world. And the strength and quality of the factories, from the Brianza to the Veneto, in an absolutely original mix, a cultural and production paradigm that continues to have strong competitiveness and that also drives another sector of Italian excellence, plant mechanics and mechatronics of to produce furnishing systems. A virtuous circle. Design culture and product culture. Exemplary Milan.

Design, from this perspective too, is outlined as knowledge, skills. Not ephemeral improvisation or banter. But profound skills, both in details (because it is precisely there that the origin of perfection lies) as well as in the general systemic overview. In the current condition of the risk of the decline of cultural and media-privilege hierarchies of those who oppose belief and science, specifically the strength of reflections on “sustainable culture” that binds industry to the environment, work and technologies to the improvement  of social equilibria, design and urban planning and architecture (this is among the most challenging projects of the new Triennale guided by Stefano Boeri) can be cornerstones of a kind of new “industrial humanism” (a habitual definition for years now in the documents by the Pirelli Foundation) where Italy and Milan itself have much to say and do. It is the culture of factories, also digital and hi tech, supplemented by traditional manufacturing wisdom with craft-based roots, with strong functional but also social values. It is “the moral of the lathe”. Well-made beauty. As design teaches us.

Milan, the capital, Milan, the locomotive, Milan which should fly so that “Italy can fly”, Milan, the smart city but also the start up town, the international Milan and Milan like Chicago, Milan which is more and more European, and on the other hand less and less Milan-Italy. In the golden age of Milan, definitions are wasted and in any case they resonate, frequent and satisfied, precisely in the wake of the outstanding success of Design Week linked to the Salone del Mobile, with 434 thousand visitors, 26% more than the previous year, record sales for exhibitors, with peaks of order increases in the range of 30%. So Milan, the great?

The usual concreteness of culture and of “Milanese politeness” prevents it from boasting this success with a triumphant air of pride. And in the days following the great international event that once again enhances the competitiveness of all things Made in Italy, the Milanese stand with their feet firmly on the ground and repeat the statement that Milan can be anything except a phenomenon, an exception, a place of lone records. Milan is not an island.

“No man is an island,” wrote John Donne, the 17th Century English poet (an exemplary verse, for its evocative beauty and moral force, borrowed precisely in these months with communicative intelligence by a chain of supermarkets called Conad). Imagine if one can reduce to an island a city which uses its name, Mediolanum – the earth in the middle – as a distinctive feature of a place open to trade and relations, market, a crossroads of conversations, a virtuous circle of trade and work. Milan, therefore, is inclusive, supportive, welcoming and friendly. From the era of Ambrose to the modern day, continuing to prefigure a future of European “centrality”, of a round metropolis, in other words one that is careful to avoid sharp edges that hurt and exclude.

The Design Week that is split between the Salone del Mobile international furniture exhibition and the “Fuorisalone” collateral events dotted across the entire city with over 1360 different events, bore evident testimony to this. Design that is represented, narrated, imagined, planned in millions of conversations goes beyond the traditional boundaries of furnishings and involves other industrial worlds, from the bicycle to the car, from services to light and sound systems that involve new living conditions, including sustainable mobility. The strong sign is innovation. The challenges are moving between Milan and the world.

This design, which is innovative, and to use a word that has become compulsory, i.e. “sustainable” (that is to say, sensitive to the human condition of a better life) is also packed with environmental and ethical values, for example posing itself the problem of what to do with plastic, an extraordinary industrial product (with solid Italian roots, if we think of Moplen resulting from the research by Giulio Natta, Nobel Prize winner for Chemistry in 1963 and from experiences in the Pirelli and Montecatini laboratories) with which innovative design and pop art thrived from the Sixties until the present day.

Plastic has represented modernity and the convenience of consumption and habits (in many cases also with a certain attention to beauty) but today, with 300 million tonnes produced throughout the world which are very difficult to dispose of, it constitutes an environmental problem that is near dramatic (“Robinson”, the weekly cultural magazine published with “La Repubblica”, dedicated almost the entire issue to this problem last Sunday and Antonio Gnoli outlined the essential issues in a great interview with Renato De Fusco, Theorist of design and planning).

Can design – which adored plastic – today suggest technologies, shapes, materials that will enable us to overcome the hurdle of all things “disposable”? Is there a responsible design, from a civil and circular economy? The issue is open. Indeed, in Milan, city of industrial culture and high chemical quality, the issue can be addressed. The Polytechnic university, with its own specialisation courses on design themes, could be an ideal place to start.

Because this is also what Milan is about. A hybrid place of knowledge and technical skills, of “polytechnical culture”, of constant dialogue between humanism and science, between technology and philosophy. History and the news offer constant testimony to this.

Milan, in the metropolitan dimension, is an industrial city, owing to its century and a half long experience and owing to its contemporary vocation. But it was never a company town like Turin, a mono-culture industrialist focusing on Ford. In the course of the Twentieth century, its entrepreneurs have instead always worked on several communicating projects, combining industry and finance, manufacturing and services, trade and university, without ever forgetting culture, publishing, communication (the very story of the “Corriere della Sera” newspapers and publishers, large and popular, but also small and ultra-sophisticated ones, confirm this). Today, the international attractiveness of Milan is based on these features. And they can also be used as leverage for a development that involves the rest of the country.

The entire Salone del Mobile affair demonstrates its validity. The projects by the designers, who look at Milan from all over the world. And the strength and quality of the factories, from the Brianza to the Veneto, in an absolutely original mix, a cultural and production paradigm that continues to have strong competitiveness and that also drives another sector of Italian excellence, plant mechanics and mechatronics of to produce furnishing systems. A virtuous circle. Design culture and product culture. Exemplary Milan.

Design, from this perspective too, is outlined as knowledge, skills. Not ephemeral improvisation or banter. But profound skills, both in details (because it is precisely there that the origin of perfection lies) as well as in the general systemic overview. In the current condition of the risk of the decline of cultural and media-privilege hierarchies of those who oppose belief and science, specifically the strength of reflections on “sustainable culture” that binds industry to the environment, work and technologies to the improvement  of social equilibria, design and urban planning and architecture (this is among the most challenging projects of the new Triennale guided by Stefano Boeri) can be cornerstones of a kind of new “industrial humanism” (a habitual definition for years now in the documents by the Pirelli Foundation) where Italy and Milan itself have much to say and do. It is the culture of factories, also digital and hi tech, supplemented by traditional manufacturing wisdom with craft-based roots, with strong functional but also social values. It is “the moral of the lathe”. Well-made beauty. As design teaches us.