Fondazione Prada Milan is an exhibition space dedicated to contemporary art and culture. It is housed in a complex that for many years functioned as a distillery, but that has been changed by OMA – the architecture firm co-founded by Rem Koolhaas – into a collection of modern spaces.
To the existing four buildings, OMA has added three new structures: an exhibition space, a multifunctional auditorium and a nine-story tower that will hold Prada’s collection, resulting in a total of 19,000 m2, out of which 11,000 m2 is dedicated to exhibitions.
The entrance building houses two special areas: a kids’ area designed by students from the École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Versailles, and a bar where film director Wes Anderson has recreated the typical mood of old Milan cafés.
The complex in Milan is an addition to the Fondazione’s exhibition space in Venice, the Ca’ Corner della Regina, a historic palazzo on the Grand Canal and hosting exhibitions since 2011.
Enter the complex – which is walled around the perimeter like a monastic campus – and a sleek glass-box gallery slides into view, providing a shop window through which the current display of classical statuary is visible, muscular silhouettes marching across a terraced landscape inside, liberated from their plinths.
Styled like a stripped-back Miesian pavilion, the gallery is topped with a second exhibition space that thrusts out in a dramatic cantilever, supported by a chunky exposed I-beam, just missing the building across the courtyard.
Such finely tuned moments of tension recur throughout the complex, where new and old hang in balance, not quite colliding – an effect amplified by unexpected material contrasts.
The new buildings are clad in what looks like rough stone or pebbledash from a distance, but turns out to be foamed aluminium, a material used in the military for bomb-blast absorption, here deployed as a shimmering skin.
The same material continues inside, as if these blocks have been hewn from a solid mass of metal foam – a nod to the office’s own design process, carving blocky massing models from styrofoam.
Used on the exterior, it makes the building feel at once massive and impossibly lightweight, held up by a single steel prop.
Elsewhere, polycarbonate walls meet floors of wooden setts, brushed aluminium collides with travertine, metal mesh emerges from poured resin. It is a rich bricolage of the opulent and everyday that recalls some of OMA’s best earlier projects