Why did you decide to ‘plant a new tree’ in this place in Milan? Does it represent another way of 'cultivating' the city?
Giorgio Donà: Stefano Boeri Interiors began in 2018 as a multidisciplinary studio that draws on the experience of Stefano Boeri Architetti to promote exchange and production of projects and research in the field of interior, exhibition and product design. The facility at Alzaia Naviglio Grande 108 becomes a meeting point between the dynamic, creative Milan of the canal zone and the Milan of the future, that of the San Cristoforo rail yard, in proximity with nature and the Milanese countryside. We wanted to create a clearly defined, inclusive identity, a flexible workplace with respect to the promptings of the city, open to moments of encounter and networking. The workspace is a true laboratory of exchange of ideas, disciplines and interaction between different, complementary professional contexts.
The lockdown made public and private living space become a central focus, as the first facet of wellbeing. Can Milan be seen as a model of reference for a new way of designing and imagining the places of life and work?
Stefano Boeri: I believe Milan should represent one of the models of reference for a new way of designing and imagining the places of life and work. Places that in this moment, in the lockdown phase and now in this delicate phase of spread of the virus, take on an increasingly crucial role. Physical distancing has been a real challenge for human relations on all scales. We have undoubtedly had to learn to know our everyday context and to approach it with greater awareness and responsibility. First of all, apart from spaces and their future, we have had to rethink the concept of flow intensity, rediscovering soft mobility and a quicker exchange of ideas and emotions, capable of adapting to the new timing of the city. The city of the future will have to be able to reclaim open spaces: an interconnected city capable of desynchronizing its rhythms, avoiding major movements and concentrations, emphasizing airy, green spaces, such as the fifth facades of buildings with roof gardens for community use, with a new, more concrete sense of environmental awareness and responsibility. Besides the domestic issues and the private sector in general, there are many other factors and ambits that need to be reinvented, which will determine our new habits, and as a result will determine how we live and how we use our spaces. We can imagine expanding and adapting the common areas of all buildings, to create forms of functional scattering of essential services – neighborhood diagnostic centers, for example – and therefore solutions that can be achieved on a useful schedule to bring new order to our urban areas, creating forms of local self-reliance. The idea of bringing certain functions that were previously unthinkable into the private sphere, into the home and the workplace, seems feasible if we look at it with an overall vision: we have to look at the in-between spaces – entrances, stairwells, landings – and the points of contact between public and private, where distance becomes a very important design theme.
What are the other indispensable themes for the future of Milan, in the center and on the outskirts? S.B.: The present moment and recent months have brought totally new everyday personal and emotional experiences into the conditions of living. Seldom in the past have we been faced with such a global shock, which has inevitably led to rediscovery and knowledge of a new sphere of human and neighborhood relations. Communities have been able to come to grips with unprecedented forms of belonging, in relation to spaces and zones. From these experiences, we can learn to think about a city organized in small urban centers, reducing the density of places that are traditionally more crowded, and thus have neighborhoods that are more self-sufficient, with relocation of services so that each citizen can reach the places he or she requires within a span of 15 minutes. This new unit of measure and these themes are now at the center of a very heated debate, but from the outset, for us, they have represented a terrain of fundamental discussion and research, in order to imagine and redesign balances inside the city.
A 'city-neighborhood' that should therefore not lose its social intensity, which the city itself, as a whole, can generate and offer. In this moment Milan is a city in evolution, based on the capacities and forces of its remarkable human capital, which lives in and transforms the city on a daily basis. We have been able to observe a strong increase of civic awareness, translated into necessities of belonging and sharing: a global community that has demonstrated great solidarity with the weaker segments, also through the exchange and support of the ideas and creativity of others. There will be an ever greater need for this type of exchange, and Milan becomes the point of attraction and enhancement of this new arriving flux.
An inclusive city composed of a multitude of personal experiences, but in any case based on an overall vision which among other things aims at a precise direction and an ecological, complete transition, that becomes increasingly visible.
Getting back to interiors, are today’s furnishings in tune with the needs of our time, in your view? G.D.: We have to first of all imagine a near future enhanced by adaptable spaces and places, which can change throughout the course of the day. In this context, furnishings take on a completely new and fundamental role. They can be increasingly flexible: during the day, for example, they can permit transformation of a bedroom into a workplace, turning beds into tables. The objects that surround us can express solutions that allow all citizens to live and to move without danger to their health and that of the community. More generally, we should not forget that the home is not made only of objects, products and technologies, but also of subjectivities. Space is therefore transformed by those who live in it, with their stories, their travels, their needs. We need to find solutions that quickly adapt to the necessities of inhabitants, and above all leave room for everyday life in all its many facets.
What does Milan represent for you and for international design?
S.B.: Never before has the study of new habitat needs, expectations and desires of different user populations been so crucial for our work and our city. And, as never before, the interiors and objects of everyday life are reflecting the transformations of lifestyles and ways of dwelling. Designers – people who work on foreseeing the future of inhabited spaces – should try to imagine a different evolution, seen not as a revolution but as an acceleration of trends already in progress. Stefano Boeri Interiors comes precisely from the choice of creating a permanent laboratory of research and design in a vital sphere of everyday life, which architecture and urban planning often tend to underestimate.
What has always been an essential characteristics of design, especially in Italy, and in an even clearer way in Milan, is the profound alchemy of the forces in play: design is never a univocal and unidirectional process, because it is always an incessant conversation between the economic-productive dimension of the companies, the visionary dimension of architects and designers, and the dimension of desire and necessity on the part of the community, which defines and shapes the needs design is called upon to somehow foresee and address. An incessant conversation that becomes the symbol of an entire system, as well as an entire city.
Photos Comunicarlo for Stefano Boeri Interiors