Aurora Canadese: Canadian Designers Acclaimed in Milan

This year for the first time, the city of Milan and the Milan Chamber of Commerce organized a competition to exhibit the works of international designers. The City of Milan Award for young foreign designers was created to support the exchange of ideas and international experiences through the innovative language and forms of design.

The first edition, held at the beginning of April, was dedicated to Canada. Twenty submissions from Canadian designers were compiled and shown at the exhibit. These submissions were selected by a panel from George Brown College, the Vancouver Institute of Art and Design, the Toronto Design Exchange, the Montreal Institute of Design, and Azure Magazine. Designers from Montreal to Vancouver and everywhere in between were included, in areas ranging from architecture, to urban design, graphic design and digital media design. Their objective was to create a design solution for public and historic sites throughout Milan. To do this, they had to integrate three key materials: colour, light and sound.

The exhibit was shown at La Triennale di Milano, located in the Palazzo dell’Arte, designed by architect Giovanni Muzio in 1933. The palazzo is in a prime location, situated near the Sforzesco Castle, a major tourist attraction in Milan. This prestigious venue has long been the host of important national and international exhibitions in areas of design, architecture, fashion and communication. Not only were the Canadian designers able to get tremendous international exposure, but the exhibit was also on display during the most important exhibition in the world – the famous Fiera di Milano which attracts thousands of people every year from all over.

The feedback was overwhelming. In the final press release announcing the winner, Luigi Ferrara, Curator of Aurora Canadese and Director of George Brown College School of Design, stated that the results of the exhibition far surpassed expectations. The event received widespread media coverage, and plans are in the works to take it on tour in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

After viewing the exhibition, it was hard to imagine that there could be just one winner. Each designer used a totally different approach to designing the information. Among the requirements that each designer had to meet was that the project had to stimulate interaction, embellish without overdoing it, and respect both the public role and historic context of each space. In other words, the integration had to be smooth. This was very difficult, considering the surroundings of Milan. As with any old, historic city, adding new elements can completely change the image of the area.

The prize for best design went to Montreal’s Triplan Design comprised of Frederic Carter, Anna Marchand, Genevi絥 Grenier and Patrice Guillemin. The panel of judges who decided on Triplan Design was headed by Rodrigo Rodriguez, co-President of the Canadian Italian Business Council (CIBC), and was composed of Silvana Annicchiarico, Curator of the Triennale permanent collection; Carlo Forcolini, President of the Industrial Design Association (ADI); Pierluigi Molinari, member of the Arredo Urbano Group and Gabriele Radice, member of the Arredo Urbano National Association.

The winning design, “A Ground to be Shared,” was based on the idea of substitution rather than addition. The team focussed its efforts on creating a piece that would compliment their assigned areas instead of trying to change them. Diffusion was used to establish the areas of interest. Rather than keep the same standard tourist areas and work on them solely, the Triplan team used the subway system as a guide to expand the points of interest. Following the subway routes, the pieces that held information were implemented as tiles on the ground that could be illuminated at night. For example, as one went past Via Monte Napoleone (the well known high-fashion street), a new point of interest was created along the route.

The three key materials were used to their fullest degree. Coloured tiles, which complemented their environment, were used to attract passers-by. Light was used specifically for nighttime, with the tiles lighting up as night fell. Sound was used with the idea that in some points of interest (for example, La Scala Opera House), the tiles would emit a musical piece when a person would stand on them.

The four designers worked part-time on the project for two months. In mid-March, they were notified that their proposal had been accepted among the 20 finalists to be exhibited. The catch was that only one could be invited to attend: “Yeah right,” Frederic Carter recalls, “as if any one of us was going to stay back here! We got some money from IDM (the Montreal Design Institute) and headed for Milan two weeks after notification.”

When asked how they felt as Canadians exhibiting their work in Milan, Carter points out that in Milan the team felt more like product designers than anything else: “It was a great honour to have been received the way we were. The whole city was oozing design.” As a result of their win, new prospects include collaboration with the Italian Commercial Delegation on an honorary booth for Achille Castiglioni at the SIDIM (the Montreal International Design Show).

Milan is known the world over as a city open to creativity in all areas of design. This aurora – new dawn – of creative expression was intended to mirror Milan’s own spirit. Their first submissions from Canadian designers proved to fit the bill perfectly – a fantastic accomplishment for these Canadian designers.

Canadian-born Julia M. Chiarella-Genoni is a freelance writer and editor living in Milan, Italy.

First published in Accenti Magazine, Issue 3.

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