Celebrating The Past And Embracing The Future At Milan Design Week

Designers, makers, and art lovers came together at Milan Design Week 2024 to marvel at the history and get a first look at what’s coming next. We immersed ourselves in this rich experience, taking notes not only on the physical beauty of the pieces but also on their impact.

Milan is a place where the past, present, and future are always in conversation with one another. The city was an epicenter of the Renaissance, and today is considered by many to be the fashion capital of the world.

At Milan Design Week 2024, all this history—the architecturally stunning (and historically important) buildings, the stone streets, the abandoned villas—became the backdrop for exhibitions and installations commenting on design’s present and exploring its future.

Design Week is one of the largest design festivals in the world, this year drawing a record-breaking attendance of 370,000 architects, designers, artists, and design enthusiats. Our team journeyed to Milan to reinvigorate and indulge in our passion for design while continuing to refine our concept of radical hospitality. The underlying question of the week was: what elevates an experience from average to unforgettable?

Where artistry and sustainability meet 

Salone del Mobile, one of the most prestigious furniture fairs in the world, is one of the shining stars of Milan Design Week. This year, the theme Materia Natura (“natural matter”) was at the heart of Salone del Mobile, continuing to highlight the important relationship between sustainability, nature, and design. Furniture manufacturers, artists, and makers assembled and displayed meaningful and memorable exhibits throughout the fair and city venues.

These installations and pieces were impactful because they immersed us in a story—a story not just about the product and the designer but also about the furniture industry itself. It was a story about its less sustainable past and its move toward a more circular and eco-friendly future. There were many collaborations incorporating repurposed and recycled materials, discarded waste, fabrication scraps, and found objects.

Some of our favorite installations were at the Alcova exhibition within Bagatti Valsecchi. Designer Harry Thaler with EconitWood exhibited repurposed industrial wood leftovers as 3D printed material. For this installation, the room was filled with furnishings engulfed in wood dust, mimicking desert dunes. This experience was about having a natural and futuristic experience with endless possibilities. Such installations offered a narrative that went beyond the traditional and presented sustainability as an immersive experience. 

Another memorable installation was Talare la Materia with Davide Balda/Fabrica X The United Colors of Benetton. The project goal was to address the environmental impact of the textile industry and reverse the process of disposal.  By reducing fibers to raw materials, Davide explored solutions for reuse within architectural materials or plant substrates and fertilizer for plant growth.  

In the heart of Milan was a gallery displaying the newest Hydro prototypes. Designed in collaboration with Shapes by Hydro—a knowledge hub created by Hydro—the challenge assigned to the seven designers was to create a product made purely from extruded aluminum that could be mass-produced on demand.

With a growing demand for low-carbon, recycled products, Hydro works closely with its customers to create recycled solutions that comply with their product specifications. This unlocks the potential for more use of recycled materials in new segments such as transportation, renewable energy infrastructure, and consumer durable goods.

By recycling post-consumer scrap, which is aluminum that has lived a life as an old window frame, a used car part, or other product, the material reaches a very low carbon footprint. Hydro CIRCAL recycled aluminum is available with 75 percent post-consumer scrap and with 100 percent post-consumer scrap in limited amounts.

Beauty beyond barriers

The theme of connection frequently came to mind during our time in Milan. That’s largely why we were there—to connect with brands and designers whose products we can share with our own clients.

But when exhibiting at Salone costs $1 million dollars, it begs the question: Who are these experiences designed for, and who gets to experience them? What is lost when there are high barriers to entry, like the exhibition cost or the need to obtain QR codes to gain entry to certain booths and experiences?

The off-fair Alcova installations at Villa Borsani and Villa Bagatti Valsecchi offered us the connection we were looking for and ultimately served as a commentary on accessibility. These spaces were traditionally reserved for the elite but were now transformed into hubs of creativity. Inside, the villas cultivated an intimate atmosphere where many barriers were dismantled between consumer and product, as well as creator and consumer.

Designers and makers were present alongside their works, ready to share their stories and processes. This personal touch transformed the viewing experience into a participatory event, enriching the understanding of each piece’s context and craftsmanship.

One memorable interaction was with Kiki Goti, a maker who sources her glass from Murano, Venice—where mirrors were first crafted. Her presence and openness in discussing her work brought a human dimension to her creations, making the experience more relatable and impactful.

Honoring the past as we look ahead

As we walked through the rows of booths at Salone and the streets of Milan, we also walked the line between looking to the past and moving toward the future. There’s a push and pull. How can we continue to preserve and honor the achievements and advancements of those who came before us while creating something fresh and new?

Maybe the answer lies in how we create experiences, elevating and sharing ones that are accessible, innovative, and immersive—without forgetting the human touches that make them timeless.