Milan Design Week 2018
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Brera Design District: «we are not a district». And here is what they are

It has the word in its name. Yet the Brera Design District wants to be a brand before being a district. And here is why

The Brera Design District presented its Fuorisalone 2018 events. The focus will be on empathy. A fascinating theme summarized in the tag Be Human, which has a lot to do with design (but that is often misused, more on this here) and that led to the choice of Cristina Celestino, Elena Salmistraro and Daniele Lago as ambassadors of the area.

From district to brand

But more than the must-see events (the anticipations have already been published everywhere, for example here) it is interesting to analyze a statement made during the press conference by Paolo Casati. Who 15 years ago, together with Cristian Confalonieri, has created (more on this here) and in 2010 the Brera Design District.
«The Brera Design District is not a district but a brand», said Casati. Which sounds a bit surreal, like Ceci N’Est Pas Une Pipe, since the word district is in the name of the brand. Yet Casati said exactly this.

Is the district concept passé?

Casati is not the only one to avoid the concept of district. For example, the curators of Ventura Future and Ventura Centrale have done the same when they decided to move away from Lambrate to occupy a new area (read about it here), focussing on curatorship and locations.
Is the concept of district a bit passé? «I do not think so», says Casati. «But it is being abused in different moments and contexts that go beyond the Milan Design Week. And those use abuse it do not think about what needs to be evaluated and what needs to be referred to when we want to define a “district” as a part of the city».

A district is born from the history of the territory

So what is a district? «There is a difference between a district and an area», Casati continues. «The latter indicates a place without defining its content. A district indicates territories devoted to a specific production or identity. In short, it is a vocation that already exists in the history of a place. Since its birth in 2010, Brera is a district because design is objectively part of its identity thanks to the many showrooms and design-dedicated spaces. And that’s why the Brera Design District does not mean only Fuorisalone. But it also includes the commitment to divulge the design culture beyond its traditional boundaries throughout the year».
Another example of a “vocation” district are the 5 Vie (more on that here). Which rely on the presence of numerous craft shops that qualifies it as an Art + Design area.

Fuorisalone between euphoria and protagonism

Is Casati criticizing the birth of the many new districts that appear every year for the Fuorisalone? «The euphoria of the event generates a desire of protagonism for small companies, and presumed business opportunities for large groups …» he says. «And that’s fine. But the mistake lies in translating everything into a container (the district) rather than into a content (the project) dedicated to this special moment. And what is the result? Many hypothetical districts and no thought about what they will leave, in the long term, for the city».

The Brera Design District brand: what it means

That’s why the Brera Design District wants to be positioned as a brand. A territorial positioning project that has a vision (to spread the culture of design among citizens). And that wishes to achieve it through a strategy. This strategy consists of two events (the Brera Design Week and the Design Days in October), of a place for narratives (the Brera Design Apartment) and of a system to include external players (the Brera Design Locations). «All this», Casati is keen to emphasize, «through creating a constant and continuous relationship between the protagonists of the design world and the local associations». It is not a foregone passage. «In 2010, the City had asked us to produce a documentation of recognition of our role by local associations: because you can not give a brand to a piece of a city without asking at least an opinion to those who live it daily».

Against the dispersive forces

We hear, in the words of Casati, that desire to contain dispersive thrusts: the same that have already led to the cancellation of Ventura Lambrate (more on what happened here) and that, years ago, have changed the connotations of Zona Tortona.
«There is a great confusion», Casati continues. «Design, food, shopping and innovation districts were born in areas, neighborhoods, streets, and buildings. As if it were enough to apply a name to succeed. Without probably being aware of what the conditions for the definition of a district are. Which is not a neighborhood, a palace or a street but an area defined by boundaries within which emerges a particular characteristic given by a competence, a capacity, an experience. Proven and consolidated and above all recognized by the main actors».

It is not right to block spontaneity. So, what to do?

On the other hand, it is impossible to prevent the free flow of cultural initiatives or entertainment, especially in a spontaneous realities such as the Fuorisalone. «True», Casati admits. «But you have to be careful. Everyone is free to organize events and it’s good. But it’s important to consider what a citizen or a visitor of the Fuorisalone might think of this flowering of districts that overlap each other and multiply. While actually debasing the concept and the uniqueness that is the only strength and sense of the format. Free initiative can not be limited. But perhaps a set of rules such as those that we gave to the interzone tables (the ones that, together with the Municipality, coordinate the various areas of the Fuorisalone) are useful for restoring a serious and coherent image of an international city. We must always remember that Milan is the protagonist of the Fuorisalone and that with our work we contribute to creating an image of the city that is difficult to construct and very easy to destroy».


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