The former site of Milan’s Societa Italiana Spiriti — a distillery dating from the 1910s — was initially composed of warehouses, laboratories, and brewing silos. But since 2015 it has taken on a new legacy: the Fondazione Prada. The Dutch architecture firm Oma repurposed the industrial compound in the Largo Isarco district into new museum structures, first unveiled in may 2015. The architect Rem Koolhaas designed the spatial compositions — continuing his enduring collaboration with the Fondazione, whose boutiques he has designed in New York, San Francisco, London, and Shanghai, as well as many seasons of runway installations. Koolhaas decided to develop a “concept of coexistence” between the compound’s original and new architecture, according to Astrid Welter, the foundation’s head of programs. Now, those structures have been crowned by the latest addition, Torre, a nine-story tower with six exhibition spaces plus a restaurant and rooftop terrace, connected by a glass elevator with pink marbled floors.
Koolhaas said in a statement that the project “represents a genuine collection of architectural spaces in addition to its holdings in art.” The 60-meter-high building boasts a total surface of some 2,000 square meters and pierces Milan’s relatively low-lying skyline. The facades incorporate exposed concrete and glass; within, the tower consists of alternating wedge-shaped and rectangular layouts. The floors vary in height (ascending from 2.7 meters on the first floor to 8 meters at the top level) and the orientation varies, with panoramic city views to the north and more localized views in eastern and western directions. “The staircase is the one element unifying all irregularities,” Koolhaas stated — which “beyond the typical pragmatic element… has become a highly charged architectural element.” Large windows throughout the structure frame crisp views of the city, showcasing the collection with bright natural light.
It’s the first time the Prada Collection, which was spearheaded in 1993, will be on permanent view. It was partially displayed for the opening of the Fondazione’s Venetian hub, Ca’ Corner Della Regina, in 2011, and again when the Fondazione was inaugurated in Milan in 2015. The collection stems from Miuccia Prada and her husband Patrizio Bertelli’s personal passion for 20th and 21st-century artists — yet since its inception, the Italian power couple decided that the Fondazione should remain a separate entity from their successful luxury fashion business, and be overseen by art professionals.
Torre’s exhibition spaces, which opened in late April, display several large-scale installations. Welter emphasized that “the architecture and the cultural program are intended to reciprocally challenge each other” and that the new building provides “a flexible platform.” the displayed works — encompassing artistic production between 1960 and 2016, and titled “Atlas”— emerged from extensive discussions between Prada and Germano Celant, the longstanding “artistic superintendent” of the Fondazione (who also curated a concurrent exhibition in the foundation’s Shanghai space, Rong Zhai, of Post-War Contemporary art from Italy). Echoing these behind-the-scenes exchanges, each floor is framed as a dialogue between artists, with the exception of one floor devoted solely to the gleaming, cherry-red Chevrolets in Walter de Maria’s “Bel Air Trilogy” (2000–2011). Welter described the pairings as “confrontations, created through assonances or contrasts.” Michael Heizer’s circular canvases in polyvinyl latex are shown with Pino Pascali’s 1967 “Confluenze,” water-splashed lengths of aluminum and methylene-blue, which reflect back the view seen through the window. William N. Copley’s bright, frisky canvases look out over Damien Hirst's clinical glass-and-steel installations, including “A Way of Seeing,” (2000), containing an animatronic man in lab garb. John Baldessari’s “Blue Line” (1988), named for the marine hue edging a black-and-white panel, neighbors with Carsten Holler’s hallucinatory “Upside Down Mushroom Room” (2000), which one reaches after pawing blindly through a pitch-black entrance. Jeff Koons’s gargantuan, gleaming “Tulips” (1995–2004) lies alongside the reduced graphic aesthetic of Carla Accardi—a tongue-in-cheek juxtaposition given the former’s excess relative to the latter’s association with the Arte Povera movement.
Ultimately, “Atlas” only partially represents the collection; over time, there will be a turnover of featured works, with possible integrations from other collections and institutions. In the interim, Fondazione Prada seeks to emphasize that culture should be accessible to a large audience. There are workshops for children every weekend at Accademia dei Bambini and a wider interdisciplinary program that draws parallels between visual art and literature, cinema, music, philosophy, art or science. As Welter put it: “Culture should help us with our everyday lives, and understand how we, and the world, are changing.”