With over 100 years of history, Prada has long been respected for originality and subtle contradictions—and finding a visually striking balance between dichotomies is what makes the fashion house unique. Milan’s Fondazione Prada complex maintains the values of the fashion empire—albeit through art. The foundation is an independent entity, separate from the fashion business, and in almost 20 years of existence it has hosted philosophy symposiums, movie festivals, and contemporary art and architecture exhibitions in Milan and Venice.
Just a couple years ago, Fondazione Prada opened in a new stunning location, situated in a semi-peripheral area south of Milan. The beautiful space, which covers almost 20,000 square meters, was an abandoned distillery. Architect Rem Koolhaas and OMA were in charge of the entire renovation, based on the preservation of some areas and also the construction of new buildings. It’s now a must-see whenever visiting Milan.
When we previewed the space back in 2015, we spent hours observing the dichotomies: wide open and narrow spaces, marble floors that hit metallic walls, concrete that meets a golden facade. The sense of surprise is constant throughout the space and the attention to detail is evident. Visitors will understandably want to explore every corner, open every door and walk all the corridors.
Currently, American artist Michael Wang’s “Extinct in the Wild” is showing in the Nord gallery. Not only a stunning show aesthetically, it also explores the complex and delicate relationship between humans and nature. In three greenhouse-type structures (made from glass and aluminum), lit up by artificial lights, Wang houses flora and fauna that no longer exists in nature—and only survives thank to human care. From the aquatic axolotl to the blue cycad, there are creatures and plants that have been rescued by gardeners, zookeepers, scientists and others. The irony, of course, is that many of these living things would have possibly flourished if it hadn’t been for human interaction initially.
The restored old buildings at the new Fondazione Prada are a former cistern (a huge space that houses just three works of art, including a Damien Hirst fish-tank), a gigantic warehouse and a series of narrow rooms that make up the Sud gallery, which is home to paintings and sculptures from the Prada permanent collection. Here, visitors will find pieces by the likes of Francesco Vezzoli, Piero Manzoni, Yves Klein, Piero Manzoni, Donald Judd and more.
Between the preserved spaces, there are brand new buildings—a movie theater and the Podium, which houses temporary exhibitions. Surprisingly, the Podium isn’t centered on contemporary art, but instead houses classical art.
Yet another piece of eye-candy is Bar Luce, designed by the beloved filmmaker Wes Anderson. Pastel colors, mirrored windows under the counters, glass jars full of candies and a nostalgic soundtrack all combine to make this cafe feels like it’s straight out of 1950s Italy. The only detail that proves guests haven’t entirely stepped back in time is the placement of USB ports—a very useful addition—making the kitschy bar a perfect place for those suffering art fatigue to refuel and recharge.
In true Prada style, no part of Fondazione is ignored: even the restrooms are stunning. Each one is different and surprising. The bathroom under the Podium is a neutral metallic empty-feeling space. It takes a while to find your way through, as nothing is really hidden but nothing is immediately visible either.
This game of hide-and-seek—full of contrasting eras, art, architecture, textures and colors—embodies the essence of Prada, making Fondazione a truly special place to explore.
Fondazione Prada is located at Largo Isarco 2 20139, Milan and is open every day from 10AM to 9PM. Entry is free for visitors under 18 or over 65 and regular tickets cost €10.
Images by Paolo Ferrarini