A new Prada Foundation is to be built in a former industrial complex – Largo Isarco – an unusually diverse environment for art. The Foundation plans to add three new structures that vastly extend the range of the existing facilities, and to exploit existing buildings in new ways. It is surprising that despite the enormous expansion of art media, the number of typologies for art’s display remains limited. It seems that art’s apotheosis is unfolding in an increasingly limited repertoire of spatial conditions: the gallery (white, abstract and neutral), the industrial space (attractive because of its predictable conditions which are meant to remain neutral when juxtaposed with any artwork), the contemporary museum (a barely disguised version of the department store) and the purgatory of the art fair.
The foundation’s exhibition space is to be designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, who is also redesigning the Garage Centre in Russia. He will blend the building’s original industrial character with several extensions, including an eight-storey tower described as a monolithic sculptural mass which they hope will become “a new landmark in Milan’s urban landscape”.
The 10 buildings will house the Fondazione Prada’s contemporary art collection, as well as exhibition space for special shows. It will also include a cinema, a library and a hall, divided by classical columns. At the centre of the hall a selection of art chosen by Miuccia Prada will take pride of place.
Speaking about his complex design, Koolhaas said: “The fondazione is not a preservation project nor a new architecture. Two conditions that are usually kept separate here confront each other in a state of permanent interaction – offering an ensemble of fragments that will not congeal into a single image, or allow any part to dominate the others”.
Within the perimeter of the Largo Isarco complex exist two freestanding structures: one flat and square and the second more vertical and connected to the great hall, which is already divided in three chapels. On close inspection, the square building did not offer attractive possibilities and will be demolished, enabling the courtyard to become a significant element for open-air use. The three chapels will be used for individual installations.
The great hall, an existing building, will be adapted for curatorial ingenuity: in its basement, the Fondazione’s collection will be arranged in a hybrid of strict storage and partial display, creating ‘chambers’ where work such as a fleet of artists’ cars can be unpacked or half opened to the public. This move was inspired by the increasing sophistication of artists’ crating, suggesting a constant increase in value, mobility, and an almost militaristic need for preparedness. When displayed in its stored condition, even with a wrapping, art retains its aura.
The freestanding object to the west of the great hall, for reasons that are no longer clear, has a number of unusual features. Divided in three rooms with three interior ‘pulpits’ connected to an exterior balcony, its configuration suggests a precise industrial need that now reads as a quasi-religious environment. This object will be preserved.
Four ‘houses’ that face the courtyard to the north and an abandoned garden to the south will accommodate Fondazione offices and permanent galleries. The ‘Haunted House’ is an unusual vertical structure with many different rooms, and balconies that overlook the complex and the city. It will be decorated with changing wallpapers and other devices of interior design to generate an instrument for ‘domestic’ setting for specific works. Largo Isarco currently contains two archives: Prada’s, methodically collected in grey shelving, and that of Luna Rossa’s campaigns. They will become a fundamental part of the Fondazione’s holdings.
The major addition to Largo Isarco will be a tower. After working initially on a storage/office tower, we propose a building that offers a catalogue of radically different architectural conditions, to be used by artists and curators.
A ‘Black Box’ will act as an autonomous cell, independent from the world – a meeting ground for art, media, technology and the public. It will also open up to animate and interact with the courtyard for open-air movies and other, yet to be imagined performances. In its default mode, it is a NASA-like control room, connected to other parts and episodes of the art system, captured and monitored in real time.
The final addition is the ‘Ideal Museum’, combining the intimate qualities of a traditional museum – a collection of rooms of various dimensions and qualities – with a large open day-lit hall for exhibitions of larger objects; both will enable the sophisticated technical controls demanded for international exchange of exhibitions.