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Salone del Mobile: Piuarch + D&G

During Milan Design Week, Dolce & Gabbana's Piuarch-designed HQ on Via Broggi was opened up to the public

Walking around the D&G Headquarters in Milan’s Via Broggi 23 on a sunny and quiet April evening is a revealing experience. Rather than colliding with the buildings surrounding it with their laundry hanging from the balconies, this modern glass, steel and stone prism designed by architectural firm Piuarch reveals itself as a comprehensive space perfectly integrated and interacting with the houses around it. The building, divided in multiple layers, comprising showrooms, a floor dedicated to Piuarch’s projects and drawings and a terrace where visitors can relax, was opened to the public for the first time during the Fuorisalone to allow people to discover Piuarch’s work and their connections with Dolce & Gabbana.  

Founded in 1996 by Francesco Fresa, German Fuenmayor, Gino Garbellini and Monica Tricario and based in Brera, in the centre of Milan, the Piuarch studio currently includes over forty architects and engineers from different parts of the world. For over ten years Piuarch has been working with D&G developing over forty boutiques all over the world, the Milan Dolce & Gabbana and D&G headquarters, the Metropol theatre and the fashion house’s factory in Incisa, Val d’Arno.

“I think they are excellent architects,” Domenico Dolce says about Piuarch in an interview included in the recently released book “Piuarch. Works and Projects” (Skira), edited by Luca Molinari and Simona Galateo. “They have managed to interpret our ideas, they’re smart, precise and balanced, but also very Italian, fortunately. I consider them ‘architect-engineers’, because in my view they’re better with architecture than with ‘décor’.”

Dazed Digital: In which ways has the relationship between architecture and fashion changed since the Piuarch architectural firm was started in 1996?
Francesco Fresa:
I would say it has changed a lot, bringing together people creating architecture and people creating fashion. These two disciplines may have different time frames since architecture is something linked with functionality and durability, while fashion is something beautiful but also ephemeral. Yet, at the same time, these two fields are very much connected. In the last few years, while we’ve been collaborating with Dolce & Gabbana, Prada developed projects with Rem Koolhaas, but there are a lot of other collaborations going on at the moment. The best things that happened in Milan in terms of architecture in the last few years were actually connected with the fashion industry.

DD: Do Dolce & Gabbana ever collaborate with you on the projects you develop for them?
Francesco Fresa:
Both Dolce & Gabbana and Piuarch have their own style and aesthetic principles. For example, we always look at linearity and simplicity, concentrating on a few details, offering a warm domesticity with no ostentation and aiming at creating things that can emotionally reach out to people. What I find interesting about our work for D&G is the fact that, apart from giving us the chance of working on some very exciting projects, the design duo actively collaborates with us on the projects. Often clients limit their feedback to saying that they like or they don’t like a project, so there is no creative dialogue with them. On the contrary there is always an interesting dialogue between us and Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana who constantly provide us with their input.

DD: In the introduction to the book “Piuarch. Works and Projects”, Domenico Dolce says he feels like “an architect at heart”: can fashion be compared to architecture?
Francesco Fresa:
Fashion designers are image creators, people capable of following a practical creative process. Architects share a language with them. Making architecture is definitely not like making a garment, but the language used in architecture and in fashion is the same. Architecture is made of details, materials, proportions, shapes and aesthetical solutions; fashion is made of seams, cuts, textiles and colours, so it basically shares with architecture the same vocabulary. This is the main reason why when we work with Dolce & Gabbana we seem to communicate very well, their aesthetics and our aesthetics travel on parallel paths. I personally find particularly exciting working with people from the fashion industry because they appreciate your rigorous attention and obsession for details.       

DD: Though the D&G HQ in Via Broggi is extremely modern it perfectly integrates with what surrounds it: is Piuarch’s main aim creating a sense of continuity between a building and the fabric of the city?
Francesco Fresa:
This is definitely the main principle of our architectural approach, but it was also the main aim behind the Via Broggi building, since we think that architecture must be linked to a specific context. The architecture we have in mind is always linked to specific contexts on a urban scale, a cultural scale or a landscape scale. We think that architecture must get out of the planning solutions that have created the “Dubai effect”, that is architectures that have generated grand gestures but that do not allow you to realise if you’re in Dubai or anywhere else in the world. Prominent fashion houses committed the same mistakes, coming up for example with shops that look the same all over the world, from Beijing to New York. Milan developed and radically changed through good and bad architectural cycles: with the building speculations of the ‘50s and the ‘80s, bad clients generated bad architects who created bad buildings. The time for change has come and I think the “glocal” principle can help us finding also in architecture ways to create contemporary and modern projects referred to or integrated in specific contexts.

DD: Is there a project amongst the ones you did for D&G that you particularly enjoyed?
Francesco Fresa:
It would be banal to say all of them or the first/the latest one. I think the most beautiful thing about this collaboration is that, so far, it has allowed us to plan a building and then seeing it coming to life. This is very satisfying from a personal point of view, but it’s also great because it allows you to see the “humanisation” of architecture, that is how people working, living or meeting in that building actually relate to it. For example every time I go to Via Broggi I feel at ease and all the buyers who visit the showrooms there tell us that, after a day’s work, they feel sad at leaving the building and that means a lot to me. 

DD: What’s the main difference between Milan Design Week and Milan Fashion Week?
Francesco Fresa:
Milan’s International Furniture Fair developed beautifully, but we can’t say the same about the fashion week. Milan Fashion Week doesn’t have any direct impact on the relationship with local people or visitors since the fashion industry doesn’t really create events that involve them. In a nutshell, when the fashion week hits Milan, ordinary people realise it because the traffic is worse than usual, there are no taxis available and you see walking around the city centre extremely tall models. Milan Design Week has instead managed to involve ordinary people: during Design Week entire neighbourhoods organise events and installations and streets turn into villages where you can discover a bit of everything. Critics have been saying that it’s becoming a bit of a sell-out, since even your local barber puts a chair outside and organises an event, but I think that this interesting phenomenon proves that Milan is an extroverted city and that design can help us reaching out to more people while becoming less exclusive and elitist. 

DD: What’s the latest project you worked on?
Francesco Fresa:
A very stimulating project, the new business centre Quattro Corti in St. Petersburg, a building that marked after 200 years the return of Italian architecture in the city founded by Peter the Great.

Images by Fabio Paleari and D&G/Piuarch