OMA's Fondazione Prada art centre
opens in Milan

| 32 comments

Rem Koolhaas' firm has converted a century-old distillery in Milan into a new arts centre for Fondazione Prada, featuring a "haunted house" clad in 24-carat gold leaf and a cinema camouflaged by mirrors (+ slideshow).

OMA and its research arm AMO renovated seven buildings at the complex in Largo Isarco, southern Milan, and designed three new ones to accompany them – a cinema and gallery that are already complete, and a tower that is still under construction.

OMA's Fondazione Prada art centre opens in Milan

The old factory buildings and warehouses were upgraded with new finishes and fenestration, while the additional structures were designed to suggest a similar industrial character, despite being built using modern materials and techniques.

OMA's Fondazione Prada art centre opens in Milan

"We worked on a respect for what was existing," said Koolhaas, speaking at the project launch on Saturday.

"We analysed what was here already and we decided that there were a number of conditions and a number of needs that were missing, and basically we added those needs in new architecture."

OMA's Fondazione Prada art centre opens in Milan

"We didn't work with contrast but on the contrary, we tried to create a situation where old and new can work very seamlessly together and are sometimes actually merged together so that you cannot tell at any one moment whether you are in a new or an old situation," he explained. "That was exactly our ambition."

OMA's Fondazione Prada art centre opens in Milan

Fondazione Prada was established by the Italian fashion house Prada in 1993 as a cultural organisation dedicated to art, cinema and philosophy.



The new Milan venue gives the foundation a permanent exhibition space. It also marks the latest milestone in an ongoing collaboration between Prada and the Dutch architecture firm, which has included construction of pavilions, scenography and shopfronts.

OMA's Fondazione Prada art centre opens in Milan

According to Koolhaas, the most important aim of the Fondazione Prada project was to create a diversity of spaces for presenting art.

"I think that most contemporary institutions dedicated to art offer relatively limited typologies of display and are very similar in terms of scale, in terms of circulation, in terms of conditions," he said. "What we saw here was the potential for a real diversity."

OMA's Fondazione Prada art centre opens in Milan

The new Podium building – designed to host temporary exhibitions – and the cinema were both inserted into the centre of the 19,000-square-metre complex. They divide the space into a series of small courtyards, some level and some sloping.

The mirror-clad cinema is a standalone structure partially sunken underground, while the glazed Podium was constructed around another building – known as the Haunted House.

OMA's Fondazione Prada art centre opens in Milan
Photograph by Charlie Koolhaas

To add emphasis to this older structure, OMA carefully clad the building's entire exterior in 24-karat gold leaf. Only the glass of the windows was left exposed.

"It was actually a last-minute inspiration, to find a way to give value to a seemingly mundane and simple element," said Koolhaas. "But we discovered that gold is actually a cheap cladding material compared to traditional claddings like marble and even paint."

OMA's Fondazione Prada art centre opens in Milan
Photograph by Charlie Koolhaas

"To me the most exciting and now visible effect of it is how the gold and the reflected light of the gold contaminates the whole environment," he added. "As the light changes, the effect of this small intervention is really noticeable throughout the complex."

OMA's Fondazione Prada art centre opens in Milan

The project also included the addition of a cafe designed by film director Wes Anderson, named Bar Luce. Wallpaper on the ceiling and walls takes cues from the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele – an iconic Milan building – while the colour palette, Formica furniture and veneered wooden panelling reference typical Milanese cafes of the 1950s and 60s.

Unlike his films, which favour symmetry, Anderson said there are no ideal angles from which to appreciate this space. "It is for real life," he stated. "I tried to make it a bar I would want to spend my own non-fictional afternoons in."

OMA's Fondazione Prada art centre opens in Milan

The new tower is being constructed in the far corner of the site and will open at a later date.

"For some reason art feels different on the ground than it feels on the 10th floor," added Koolhaas. "What will be unique about this tower is that every next floor will be one metre taller, so that will have a very varied effect on the artistic content."

OMA's Fondazione Prada art centre opens in Milan

The Fondazione Prada opens this week and its main exhibition is called Serial Classic, with scenography by OMA. Seeking to explore seriality and copying in classical art, a collection of ancient sculptures and reproductions are arranged over a landscape of stone slabs on both floors of the Podium.

OMA's Fondazione Prada art centre opens in Milan

The renovated spaces known as the Sud gallery and the Deposito host an exhibition named An Introduction, featuring cars by artists Elmgreen & Dragset, Carsten Höller, Tobias Rehberger and Sarah Lucas.

The four-storey Haunted House hosts a permanent installation conceived by American sculptor Robert Gober and including two works by Louise Bourgeois, while the Cisterna – a building made up of three vertical structures – presents a changing exhibition of three works from the foundation's collection of 20th and 21st century art.

OMA's Fondazione Prada art centre opens in Milan

The final exhibition space is the Nord gallery, which opens with an exhibition dedicated to the concept of the synecdoche.

AMO's Fondazione Prada to open in Milan
Model

Photography is by Bas Princen, apart from where otherwise indicated.

Read on for a short statement from Rem Koolhaas:


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.

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.


Project credits:

Architect: OMA – Rem Koolhaas, Chris van Duijn, Federico Pompignoli
Local architects: Alvisi Kirimoto & Partners, Atelier Verticale
Structural engineer: Favero&Milan
MEP engineer: Favero & Milan, Prisma Engineering
Cost consultant: GAD
Acoustic Engineer: Level Acoustics
Scenography: Ducks Sceno
Fire engineer: GAE Engineering
Prada engineering director: Maurizio Ciabatti
Prada project leader: Maurizio Ciabatti

  • RCM

    There better be no calumniator in the comments section! This
    project is sublime.

    • M. Vitruvius

      Freedom of speech is being celebrated all over the world this week so you are free to have your own subjective, biased opinion about this project.

  • FBuildung

    “Despite being being built using modern materials and techniques.” – “Being being”???

    • Oops! Thanks for pointing that out, we’ve now removed that extra “being”.

      Anna/Dezeen

      • FBuildung

        Nice work.

  • alex

    “We discovered that gold is actually a cheap cladding material compared to traditional claddings like marble.” You heard it here first.

    • Darren James Silk

      Because it is rather thin. The sash windows and urns atop Chatsworth House in the UK are clad in it because it’s so non-reactive with other materials and it lasts for decades; longer than paint. With stone, however, you only see the front face of it, yet it has to be thick enough support its own weight on a cladding system –so you pay for depth but see none of it. It might as well be paper thin, like the gold leaf in this instance. It’s actually a matter of economies of scale with regard to material consumption. As mad as that actually sounds, it is correct.

      • lomo

        Come on! Gold leaf cheaper than paint?! Please!

        • dontbesilly

          Guess you didn’t actually read the comment you replied to. It lasts longer than paint, and when gold is spread as thin as it can be(which is very thin) it is not all that expensive. People… blinded by gold, jesus.

          • Where can I buy that gold Jesus?

          • lomo

            Guess you never really worked on façades. Let see if a thin layer applied over common plaster doesn’t crack in the next two years. Besides: do you think the work of a craftsman applying golden leaf (traditional expensive technique) is either faster or cheaper than that of common worker using common paint? They can use gold wherever they like, I appreciate their work, but they won’t pull my leg. OMA’s not famous for being “cheap”!

        • Darren James Silk

          Paint you have to renew almost every year on a public building. Gold leaf every 30-40 years. Just do the math. £7 per square metre of paint per year in 30 years costs £210 per square meter for 30 years.

          Whereas 1 square metre of gold leaf is £6.50 once in 30 years. Paint already looses on a yearly basis inasmuch as it is already £0.50 more. So 30 years of paint = £210 p/m2 for 30 years or gold leaf = £6.50 once for thirty years. Simple math and some research into the price of gold leaf. It’s basic long-term economics.

          • lomo

            You just don’t get it, do you? There’s no point in “doing the math” if you really think that paint on façades is renewed every year and if you believe that supply and laying of gold leaf costs £7 per square metre…

  • ivan.capitani

    “We worked on a respect for what was existing,”

    “We analysed what was here already and we decided that there were a number of conditions and a number of needs that were missing, and basically we added those needs in new architecture.”

    “We didn’t work with contrast but on the contrary, we tried to create a situation where old and new can work very seamlessly together and are sometimes actually merged together so that you cannot tell at any one moment whether you are in a new or an old situation.”

    Therefore you “carefully clad the building’s entire exterior in 24-karat gold leaf” Indeed!

    • davvid

      Are you a traditionalist?

      • ivan.capitani

        Are Caruso St John Architects traditionalists? In case you didn’t get it I’m not judging OMA’s decision to clad the whole building in gold, but I’m pointing out what I find to be in contradiction between those statements.

        If you want to work on a respect for what is existing, and you don’t want to work in contrast but on the contrary, you want to create a situation where old and new merge together you don’t clad a whole edifice in 24-karat gold leaf.

        My personal opinion (if you are intersted):
        This is not a refurbished building in Milan, this is Goldfinger’s mansion, good only for the third film in the James Bond series.

        Signed someone who was born and grew up in Milan.

        • Aleksandar Kochovski

          I believe it only adds to the entire composition, like an accent of colour and texture. The fact that it was an old building clad in gold leaf, I think, is an act of preservation.

          A restored original is never completely like the original, like the restoration of the Parthenon or Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel murals. Cladding it in an opaque colour or material is an act of preservation by abstraction.

          The essence of the building is kept, although it’s physically altered. It’s made immortal, almost. Like it’s devoid of materiality, like a giant gold model of a building. In my honest opinion, at least.

  • ivan.capitani

    “But we discovered that gold is actually a cheap cladding material compared to traditional claddings like marble and even paint.”

    It may be when you have Prada as client. But for us mere mortals?

  • Tom in London

    This is Kultur for people who think about gold all the time.

  • sor perdida

    The minute inspiration goes away, historicist pastiche creeps in.

    • Darren James Silk

      Is it actually pastiche though? Pastiche is a poor recreation of something historical. Whereas all of the historical parts are original and the new bits are strikingly industrial (new). All he did was wrap an old bit in gold leaf and add contrasting new bite.

  • m

    When did Trinidad James become a partner at OMA?

  • James

    It’s a humble structure dressed up to go to a fancy dance. Consequently, it’s a bit ridiculous. Perhaps using gold as cladding was a sensible choice, but I can’t help thinking it was a stipulation from the client who was uncomfortable at not having something “bling” about it.

  • Kap

    Modestly beautiful with a clear reference to both the site’s past and its future.

  • Sergii Borodenko

    2/3 of all the orthodox churches have about 3-33 domes covered in golden foil. There are about 30,000 churches only in Russia. If you ask me whether the biggest sin is to cover your office with gold spending your own cash, or doing so in an enormous scale using taxpayers’ money? I would respond that it’s not the devil who actually wears Prada. No offence.

  • Rainman

    Rem 1, Renzo 0. Just this composition alone annihilates the pile of scaffolding on West Street. For all the self congratulation, the Whitney and meatpacking have been heaping on our plates, I hope the Fondazione rings the anguish of regret in their boardroom.

  • Arjay Cee

    Think the gold is snazzy? The toilets play Beyoncé when you flush.

  • Well, how many pictures can YOU jam on a wall?

  • goldigger79

    If this was China then the gold paint will be entirely removed and stolen by the next day.

  • lebanese in italy

    Just visited the Prada Foundation today. It is not bad actually. I loved the flooring of the main exhibition hall. For the rest its just really normal renovation, let’s say with different textures/colours/materials.

    I just wish that architects just say that they felt it like that without finding words for everything they do because sometimes – not to say most of the time – things are just as they are thought/felt. I really understand modern architecture when I see it much more when it is explained by its architects.

    There are some details that I really loved, others I would have preferred another solution. The other facade material: “foam aluminium cladding” used for the main exhibition building is very porous and will surely capture al lot of “things” including rain. Its usage as interior panels is actually not bad but for the exterior facade it is not a good solution.
    I am not a fan of the glamorous gold building, neither the use of gold on a facade but it makes a nice light effect and reflections.

    Not to forget that nowadays “everything” can pass under the name of holy “design” especially coming from the so-called starchitects …

  • lomo

    It seems you’ve never seen a specification. They just say that one single golden pattern costs £477 (which is the opposite of cheap). What about the laying? What about the surface treatment? What about the cost per square metre of the golden leaf?

    Go finish your architecture studies, then you’ll see what the real world is.

  • Karol_B

    What is most fun about Koolhaas is his open play with colours, claddings, wallpapers, illusions. Sometime its Baroque, sometimes surreal, sometimes 1970s or just Postmodern, but it adds so much diversity and excitement.