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Published by Sugar & Cream, Wednesday 03 April 2024

Images courtesy of Alcova

Open for public – Villa Borsani and Villa Bagatti Valsecchi.

The seventh edition of Alcova – an international platform for contemporary design – will open to the public April 15-21 in the unprecedented setting of two iconic villas in the Milan metropolitan area, Villa Borsani and Villa Bagatti Valsecchi. Now a must-see destination of Milan Design Week, Alcova presents projects by designers, galleries, companies, institutions and schools in dialogue with extraordinary works of architecture – an approach that has been the same for years, but each year produces new and surprising results.

Villa Bagatti Valsecchi: Via Vittorio Emanuele II, 48, 20814, Varedo (MB)
Villa Borsani: Via Umberto I, 148, 20814, Varedo (MB)

The two sites, within walking distance from each other, are connected to central Milan every 15 minutes by the S2 and S4 lines.

The rooms of the villas, with a strong architectural character, respectively modernist and Lombard Baroque, will host the selection of Alcova projects, generating surprising juxtapositions. The doors of the two mansions, for the first time, will open to welcome the general public, inviting them to question themselves on a theme always central to Alcova: that of living, which this year will unfold in its complexity through two “domestic” contexts.

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The research strands are renewed, intertwining: technological and sustainable materials and production processes, contemporary craft, experimental aesthetics, sociological, political and global issues. Alcova invites the public into an almost surreal microcosm: a historically relevant context in which to gather to imagine the future of design through installations, performances and collective moments.

Acclaimed designers will team up with equally renowned figures on the global stage: Atelier de Troupe will present an Art Deco-style collection on the theme of transatlantic travel collaborating with cc-tapis, interacting with the iconic staircase of Villa Borsani, while FABIAN FREYTAG will contribute to this design discourse by presenting ART/FICIAL DÉCO, in dialogue with a stunning bar created by Osvaldo Borsani, custom made for his family villa. Among the most eagerly awaited projects is the installation by Japanese architect Junya Ishigami for MANIERA, conceived ad-hoc for Villa Bagatti Valsecchi’s small grotto, hidden in the vastness of the park. Objects of Common Interest together with Bitossi, will present a collection of vases reminiscent of ancient Greek architecture, enriching the majestic entrance of Villa Bagatti Valsecchi. Agglomerati will inhabit the rooms of Villa Borsani with another of its impeccable Italian marble designs. Laila Gohar with GOHAR WORLD will recreate a universe of intriguing and surreal objects that revolve around the dining table.

Together with designers who have accompanied Alcova since its beginnings and contributed to its success, there will be space for many emerging practices including studio Don Cameron which approaches interior design with a vocabulary inspired by architecture, photography and cinema; and the duo TWE: TOUCH WITH EYES that experiments with new ways of making design by transforming locally found waste materials. Another new addition is the multi-disciplinary Inderjeet Sandhu, who investigates domestic space as a political arena by working on the visual language of artefacts. StudioDanielK proposes in- stead a selection of marble furniture that cross-references Brazilian designs of the last century and references to contemporary art, and Terraformae, a new brand by Fornace S.Anselmo reinterprets the material terracotta. Studio Tooj, equally committed to material research, will showcase a collection of 3D-printed quartz sand.

The development of new technologies and production processes, combined with environmentally re- sponsible design, has always been central to Alcova’s selection. Several designers whose very practice is built on this theme will be present again this year: studio Hilos will present a manufacturing system to revolutionise the footwear industry through waste-free 3D printing technologies, customised designs, and on-demand services. Another designer working with 3D printing is Harry Thaler, supported by the technical knowledge of the specialised company Additive Tectonics to create innovative products from wood particles, engineered into a ductile filament for printing.

The thread of technology always relates to craft, its fundamental counterpart in research and innovation. Designer Álvaro Catalán de Ocón dwells in this intersection with his acclaimed PET Lamp, which combines the investigation and cultural preservation of craftsmanship with recycling techniques. At Alcova 2024, a new addition to the collection will be exhibited: the PET Lamp Gurunsi. An elaborate lampshade that integrates the textile skills of Ghanaian company Baba Tree to give new life to PET plastic bottles. The New Raw studio participates in this redefinition of “craft” within new technologies, describing its practice as “digital craftsmanship”. Through automated but ‘in-house’ engineered pro- cesses, the studio explores the imperfect and layered character of 3D printing using, once again, waste plastic materials. The project Sfossils is all about developing new techniques for working with ceramics by drawing on open databases. The results of this research are stunning chandeliers with a rough and highly detailed surface, reminiscent of natural bark.

Another intriguing novelty of Alcova 2024 is that designers will enter into dialogue with the context of domestic architecture for the first time. The rooms of the villas will be reinterpreted by installations specifically designed to enhance this unique combination.These interventions will be particularly meticulous in Villa Borsani: the dreamlike installation by Sema Topaloglu Studio will overflow into the exquisite pre-existing bathtub, already pictorially decorated by Adriano Spilimbergo. The marble and glass objects by Tom Fereday will mediate the villa’s interior and exterior. Supaform’s post-modernist furnishings will recreate an out-of-the-ordinary office environ- ment in Villa Borsani’s high rooms.

The green areas of Villa Bagatti Valsecchi will play a leading role, hosting large projects scattered throughout the vastness of the garden. Objects of Common Interest offers a place of conviviality where to gather and find shelter from the sun; the trio composed of Diego Faivre, Hugo Béhérégaray and Pierre Castignola playfully interprets the villa’s park by creating a site-specific golf court. Surfacedesign, Inc. proposes seating for the public in natural stone, while Pepe Valenti presents The Portal fountain, breathing life into the wonderful loggia of the villa, within the frame of Alcova Design Shop.

Indeed, the whole Loggiato delle Scuderie will become the stage for another major novelty this year: the aforementioned Alcova Design Shop, which will take the form of an articulated (and no longer just virtual) installation showcasing objects presented by Alcova online, as well as many new items put on display by this year’s exhibitors. Collectible design, product design, and objects with different uses and scales will be showcased, explicitly promoting promising contemporary design. Among others, there will be new projects by Stef Fusani, Stefania Ruggiero, and Clara Schweers, with whom Alcova Design Shop established a strong collaboration through the years. The selection will also feature the latest arrivals: a collection of bulging metal “from outer space” by Astronauts, Sagmin Oh’s soft lights, Laura Casañas Maya’s vibrant coffee tables that reinterpret trimmings on curved metal tubing, Gregor Jahner’s Pierced Stools, Limbo Accra’s new furniture. All pieces will be available for purchase onsite.

The panorama of the seventh edition acquires an increasingly international scope. Alcova 2024 ranges from the highly refined Japanese aesthetic taste with RKDS (Ryuichi Kozeki), and the material language of the South Korean studio WKND Lab, to the search for Chinese cultural definition through a historical perspective, reinterpreted in the contemporary, with MMR STUDIO and SINGCHAN DESIGN. The theme of territorial identity will also be explored by giving voice to more fragile geographies: the brand Faina offers a reflection of the radical socio-cultural changes in Ukraine. Studio AASSTTIINN, on the other hand, brings a contribution from Iran.

Objects will also be explored in their semiotic dimension, in areas of meaning that transcend their physical and structural boundaries. Designer Inderjeet Sandhu will present artefacts steeped in contradictions, dismantling and reinterpreting familiar elements of the home with a specific emphasis on language and the written word, associated with themes of migration, identity and displacement. Another ‘meta’ project of sociological/linguistic interest is that of UMPRUM Studio of Fashion and Footwear Design, an academy of art, architecture and design in Prague, which will offer design reflections on ‘dress code’ norms, deconstructing gender identity. More welcome than ever is the return of HEAD – Genève, among the most influential international schools in the field of design and art, which will present 2084, Diorama of the Future, an architectural speculation on the challenges of the post-anthropocene era. The scenario deals with the reconstruction of a near future in which some cities are submerged, while others endure extreme conditions, direct consequences of the climate emergency.

A collaboration with Artemide will light up the monumental spaces of Villa Bagatti Valsecchi at sunset. Lights designed by Alejandro Aravena, Bjarke Ingels and Carlotta De Bevilaqua will help create an evocative and emotional atmosphere.

Among other novelties, Alcova will also be present in the heart of Milan, in Rinascente, with an unprecedented exhibition project to present the research of studio LoopLoop, which will include a workshop and an in situ performance on the natural dyeing of anodised aluminium. The studio explores the theme of self-sufficiency as a key means of making production processes sustainable, shortening the supply chain (closing the loop) and creating an interesting and unusual corner in the spaces of an iconic place for Milan.

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