Fondazione Prada, OMA/Rem Koolhaas

OMA's Fondazione Prada in Milan is the new museum of contemporary art in an ex distillery in the historic suburb south of the city.

OMA's Fondazione Prada in Milan is the new museum of contemporary art in an ex distillery in the historic suburb south of the city.

Private exhibition spaces of ample measure and undeniable architectural impact have, for some time, been scattered through the major European cities and metropolises. While Paris welcomed the new Fondation Louis Vuitton in the appealing context of the Bois de Boulogne, the Lombard capital, with the understatement that has always characterized it, has found space for the new Fondazione Prada in an ex distillery hidden in the historic suburbs south of the city. The project by OMA/Rem Koolhas speaks of strong relations with its surroundings, but also of vision, in sophisticated and unexpected gestures flanked by other more austere conceptions, as suits the reserved and essential Lombard character, and at times in a language of robust Dutch attitudes.

The heart of the project can be seen as the “Podium”, the great transparent cube, marked off on three sides by uprights, and topped by a prism-like beam form, defined by Koolhas as the “Ideal Museum”, and equipped with advanced security and illumination systems. This is flanked by a series of renovated shed-roofed spaces, where part of the permanent collection is distributed, in a dense but never casual staging. Other spaces, with unique connotations, are distributed around the internal courtyard and Podium. The Auditorium, and a hanging garden are found in the Stage Building. There is also a Children’s Academy on an upper floor, dedicated to activities for the youngest public. These are spaces that will change this former industrial area, and which in fact are already transforming the scattered warehouses and different activities.

This particular project cannot be compared to what has occurred in the other former industrial areas of the city, which have been reworked for residential and tertiary functions. In this case, the cultural aim and the contained scale of the program, as well as the complex system composed of pre-existing elements and highly varied types of new construction, ensure its unique character. There are elements that add to the “chaotic” variety of the locality in a determinant way, as in the case of the beautiful nine-story tower, with inset sections of frontage, and of other elements of unusual character. This is a grand project, sophisticated and metropolitan, an answer that relates to the territory of a greatly changed city, but which until now has paradoxically maintained its centralized character.

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