As Milan’s Design Week diverges from its origins as a furniture fair, transforming into a full-fledged platform for innovation, technological advancements—whether used to create new materials or develop home tech—increasingly play an important role.
This year’s Lexus Design Award, for example, heralded innovations in technology. Dedicated to supporting up-and-coming young designers, the top prize went to Japanese designer Hiroto Yoshizoe, who was mentored by architects at the New York studio Snarkitecture. Hiroto’s prototype, PIXEL, converted light and shadow through square panels, presenting new possibilities for large-scale projections.
The company also commissioned architect Neri Oxman and her research and design team at the MIT Media Lab to create the installation “Ancient Yet Modern.” The towering glass pillars in the exhibition were created using 3D printing techniques; they are the first to be printed at such a large scale, nodding to the future of 3D printing.
Another unique 3D printing project came from Dutch designer Olivier van Herpt, who created clay sculptures using a printer he built specifically to make larger products with natural clay.
“Unsustainable plastics, which are still an important raw material in most industrial applications of 3D-printing technology, are replaced by a sustainable and culturally revered material” wrote the designer in the catalog of the biennial New Material Award, for which the project was submitted. Combining tradition with technology, the woven patterns on the sculptures harken back to artisan-made objects.
A welcome respite from the bustle elsewhere, the tranquil interior of Milan’s Cinema Arte held a ten-foot-tall “tree” unlike any other: From elegant metal branches, fragrance-filled bubbles blossomed, bursting on contact with skin, but—intriguingly—not clothing.
Providing a uniquely interactive experience for visitors, the installation—called New Spring and the result of a collaboration between London design office Studio Swine and clothing retailer COS—fed into the broader trend of designers incorporating unique technologies into their works.
Japan’s cherry blossom festival—as well as the hand-blown Murano glass chandeliers found in Milanese palazzos—inspired Studio Swine’s arboreal installation. “We didn’t want to do a tree in a literal way but to create an expression or feeling of it—to create something that was strangely familiar, but also that you had never experienced before,” said Alexander Groves of Studio Swine, describing the arboreal installation while sitting aside his studio partner and wife, Azusa Murakami.
The duo is known for dreaming up technologically inventive projects. They’ve created objects made from plastic trawled from the ocean and used the world’s smallest precision-cut crystals to visualize sound waves.
Like Studio Swine and Olivier van Herpt, Geneva-based design duo Panter & Tourron melded traditional craftsmanship with technological innovation when creating the exhibition, PASSAGES, an exploration of the visualization of heat. Minimalistic copper sculptures made by Swiss craftsmen were painted with black thermochromic ink. The temperature sensitive ink fades with the application of heat, allowing the copper underneath to shine through vibrantly.
“Some work with technology that was already developed and appropriate it,” says designer Alex Tourron, “but we would rather create an idea first and ask people if they can do it.” Tourron explains that the team hired a programmer to time the movement of the lighting and worked with a laboratory of chemists to develop the ink.
In the home tech department, Milan saw the launch of the Frame by Swiss designer Yves Béhar for Samsung. The sleek TV, which looks nearly indistinguishable from a picture frame, switches into “art mode” when not in use, displaying high quality works by artists like photographer Todd Eberle and others.
“Every piece of furniture, every work of art on the wall, every object becomes part of an aesthetic and style. The television is no exception,” said Béhar in a statement. With sensors that turn off the display when no one is in the room, the TV may well be a glimpse into the future of integrated home tech.
Some designers in Milan this year preferred to experiment with technology to create new materials: British designer Max Lamb teamed up with Danish textile manufacturer Kvadrat to create a dozen inventive benches made of discarded fabrics for their co-owned brand, Really, which were exhibited in Milan.
The whimsical seats were created from Solid Textile Board, made of end-of-life cotton and wool from the textile industry, industrial laundry facilities and households. The project, said Lamb in an interview with the exhibition’s curator, “demonstrates to other designers and manufacturers what the material can do, what can be done with it, how it compares to similar sheet materials, and what is special about it.”