Fondazione Prada

by | 27. Oct 2015

Cultural | Project
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Photograph by Bas Princeton, Courtesy of Fondazione Prada

By Nina Tory-Henderson

A new art space for Fondazione Prada located in a former industrial complex may sound like the cliché of the 21st century gallery. It is, however, anything but.

The collaboration between Prada and OMA has been an ongoing one for the past 15 years. Within this time they have produced flagship stores, catwalks that verge on theatre performance and a shape-shifting pavilion in Seoul. It could be the trust and understanding forged throughout this unusually long client – architect relationship that has resulted in the incredible Fondazione Prada. That, or the undisclosed budget and almost decade long design process. Whatever the reason, it is undoubtedly the zenith of the collaboration between the two cultural powerhouses.

The site lies in a sparse southern neighbourhood of Milan. Fondazione Prada sits within stucco walls topped with terracotta roofs – an unassuming presence within the local context. The only hint of what lies within it’s borders is a simple industrial ‘tower’ clad in gold leaf, only just revealing itself to the street, peeking above the terracotta roofs.

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The unassuming entrance of Fondazione Prada. Photograph
by Pygmalion Karatzas

Fondazione Prada is not a conventional museum or gallery, but rather a cultural institution that displays and explores the foundations main interest, ideas, in whatever form they manifest: art, literature, cinema, music, philosophy, science. The site hosts an agglomerate of programs including children’s workshops, residencies, rehearsals, theatre, cinema and a library in addition to the gallery spaces. Wandering through the new and existing buildings scattered across the site that hum with  various activity, the atmosphere is more like that of a campus than a gallery – there is an overall sense of exploration and research.

Fondazione Prada will not be a museum, but rather the continuation of an intellectual process founded on the exploration of doubt and on extensive research.”
/Miuccia Prada
In parallel to the clients vision, OMA’s main design objective was to counteract today’s limited gallery typology. They have achieved this through thorough site analysis, exploiting existing conditions to create a variety of gallery typologies, with some buildings barely altered. In an old grain silo the original chambers are used as three large exhibition spaces, each housing a single artwork. The existing ‘tower’, shimmering in its new gold leaf skin offers more intimate, almost domestic scale spaces that you climb up through, eventuating with a view over the site.
We have tried to find ways to go beyond the gallery wall and create a real diversity of typologies and conditions for the display of art.”
/Rem Koolhaas
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Existing warehouse buildings repurposed as diverse gallery spaces. Photograph by Bas Princeton, Courtesy of Fondazione Prada

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Views over the site and surrounding neighbourhood from the the top of the tower. Photograph by Bas Princeton, Courtesy of Fondazione Prada

New buildings and elements slot within the existing built fabric, at times seamlessly merging and at other times starkly contrasting. The first of these additional structures is ‘The Podium’. A formally minimal building with an entirely glazed ground floor, topped with a windowless slab dramatically cantilevering over the glass box, skimming the existing building across the courtyard.

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The podium clad in foamed aluminium – a material normally used for bomb-blast absorption in the military. Photograph by Bas Princeton, Courtesy of Fondazione Prada

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A dramatic meeting between old and new. Photograph by Bas Princeton, Courtesy of Fondazione Prada

This striking contrast between old and new is repeated throughout the site, mainly through an exciting play on materials: foamed aluminium panels meet marble floors, grated flooring meets cobblestone paving, polished stainless steel sits flush within stucco walls, existing steel elements are painted fluoro orange.

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The existing palette of stucco walls and cobblestone paving is overlayed with contemporary and unexpected material additions. Photograph by Bas Princeton, Courtesy of Fondazione Prada

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Strong material contrasts are carried through to the interior. Photograph by Bas Princeton, Courtesy of Fondazione Prada

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Material junction. Photograph by Charlie Koolhaas, Courtesy of OMA

Other new additions are less obvious. Clad in the same stucco walls as the majority of the complex and classical in form, a new cinema and theatre gives the impression that it has been there all along. It seems that the only addition is a single polished stainless steel facade, which can be opened up onto the adjacent courtyard for outdoor performances.

In addition to the various spatial typologies of the interior, there are a range of outdoor (truly) public spaces – you only pay to enter the gallery buildings. Gorgeous fig trees with mint green chairs scattered underneath them line the cobblestoned streets. You can sit in the open courtyard and gaze into the Podium’s glazed gallery space. The terrace and long bench in front of the cafe (the interior of which was designed Wes Anderson) would be at home anywhere in the centre of the city, you can eat the best gelato of your life here and pay just as little as any Milanese cafe.

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The busy cafe terrace. Photograph by Pygmalion Karatzas

Totally open to the city and rooted in the existing fabric of the site, Foundazione Prada has created a provocative and totally new kind of art space, housing a diversity of content and activities within the varied spatial typologies of its architecture.

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Model of Fondazione Prada. Image courtesy of OMA.

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New buildings highlighted within the existing context. Drawing courtesy of OMA. 


SIZE28, 340 m2
ARCHITECTFederico Pompignoli
Massimo Alvisi