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What lies Beyond the Surface? The depths of stone and human nature

Beyond the Surface © Photo by Marco Cappelletti, courtesy of OMA and SolidNature

Beyond the Surface © Photo by Marco Cappelletti, courtesy of OMA and Solid Nature

The design world is still buzzing about Milan Design Week. But now that the 2023 edition of the Salone del Mobile.Milano – as well as the Fuorisalone – has come to an end, it is time to reflect on the breakthroughs this creative hub of ideas, furniture, homeware, architecture, social innovation, and more has brought. A land blending art, enterprise, experimental design and technology, some districts became vibrant with an international atmosphere. And incredible experiences. Winner of the Fuorisalone Award 2023, the Dutch stone brand Solid Nature joined the Milan Design Week for the second time. At the 19th-century Casa Maveri in the Brera District, they presented the exhibition ‘Beyond the Surface’ . Commissioning OMA to “design an installation that explores the journey of natural stone from its geological formation to the finished product,” Solid Nature called upon the world’s dreamers in a sensory experience that compared stone manufacturing processes, the elaboration of dreams and the formation of human character. Designed and curated by OMA partner Ellen van Loon and associate architect Giulio Margheri, the exhibit was created to immerse visitors with stimulating elements. Here’s a report from the perspective of an Istituto Marangoni Visual Design student.

 

Beyond the Surface © Photo by Marco Cappelletti, courtesy of OMA and Solid Nature

Beyond the Surface © Photo by Marco Cappelletti, courtesy of OMA and Solid Nature

Beyond the Surface provided an instantly immersing experience through an illuminated staircase made of different onyx varieties

Beyond the Surface provided an instantly immersing experience through an illuminated staircase made of different onyx varieties

Unlike many exhibits, Beyond the Surface provided an instantly immersing experience through an illuminated staircase made of different onyx varieties. The staircase was meant to invite visitors to take a deep breath and open their senses. To discover what lies beyond the surface, in other words, the sub-level.

Beyond the Surface © Photo by Marco Cappelletti, courtesy of OMA and Solid Nature

Beyond the Surface © Photo by Marco Cappelletti, courtesy of OMA and Solid Nature

Beyond the Surface © Photo by Marco Cappelletti, courtesy of OMA and Solid Nature

Beyond the Surface © Photo by Marco Cappelletti, courtesy of OMA and Solid Nature

The following installation was in a sequence of rooms below ground. It consisted of a bright sculpture made of onyx. The layered bands in the onyx revealed thousands of years of deposits that seemed almost artistically designed and immortalised in solid rock. The sculpture was meant to symbolise the pressure we go through in life. All around us, other people’s expectations and cultural standards weigh us down from the outside and within. It shapes each of us in distinct ways. Yet it’s necessary to carry on and pass-through pressure. Next, was a room entirely composed of granite, onyx and travertine blocks. Gravity seemed suspended. It was meant to demonstrate how granite is formed in underground chambers buried below kilometres of rock and sediment. It’s hard to feel anything but uncomfortable when we find ourselves in a dark, uncompromising space. The viewer realised that character is formed by confronting the uncomfortable, becoming unbreakable.

Beyond the Surface © Photo by Marco Cappelletti, courtesy of OMA and Solid Nature 

Beyond the Surface © Photo by Marco Cappelletti, courtesy of OMA and Solid Nature

Walls encased in pink onyx illuminated the room and opened up to reveal another enclosed space. This room showcased the transformative potential of the material. Emerging from the darkness and discovering hope in the shape of light. It’s clear what human hands can achieve with rocks, from raw to polished and bush hammered finishes. Visitors were able to witness this by touching the soft, transformed surfaces.

A series of vignettes and stones were displayed for visitors to awaken their senses from touch to sound and smell. The display showcased how rock is subjected to the sublime forces of nature, just as human life is filled with obstacles to overcome. Visitors could touch the stones and experience how they weather from blocks into smaller pieces and then into dust before witnessing how developing anything of lasting value takes patience. The effects of time, the slow yet unstoppable forces shaping rock into stones, were evident in the beauty of the final shapes.

At the end of the sequence of rooms, visitors could choose a small stone to take as a gift

At the end of the sequence of rooms, visitors could choose a small stone to take as a gift

At the end of the sequence of rooms, just before the staircase leading up to the garden, visitors could choose a small stone to take as a gift. Demonstrating success as a result of a long journey through the manufacture of stones and human nature.

Beyond the Surface © Photo by Marco Cappelletti, courtesy of OMA and Solid Nature

Beyond the Surface © Photo by Marco Cappelletti, courtesy of OMA and Solid Nature

The last layout was located within the garden of Casa Maveri, celebrating stone in its glorious, finished form. Artists, designers, practices working at the crossroads of architecture, design and landscape, and creatives, such as Sabine Marcelis, Bita Fayyazi, Studio Ossidiana and Ward Strootman, transformed their dreams into sculptural pieces, including a dining table and accessory set made from different types of travertine and depicting a range of a colour palette inspired by nature, seating sculptures: lounge object ‘The Wave’ and sculpted seats ‘Owl’, ‘Chimera’, ‘Cat’ and ‘Rabbit’, the small stage, or ‘Tribune’ made from various onyx ranging from soft to bright and a plate of quartz crystals set within a travertine base.

Beyond the Surface © Photo by Marco Cappelletti, courtesy of OMA and Solid Nature

Beyond the Surface © Photo by Marco Cappelletti, courtesy of OMA and Solid Nature

This exhibition provided visitors with a powerful tactile experience. Anyone who visited gained a deeper understanding of the process, materials, and textures of the stones used in each installation. By engaging with the tactile elements of stone, the exhibition provided a unique, powerful experience for designers to comprehend the beauty and complexity of rock processes and create more meaningful pieces. The magnetic element behind the show was the subtle link between the parallels of making dreams come true and how this slow but rewarding process relates to stone formation. The exhibit was great for any contemporary designer to indulge their senses and become inspired, taking the valuable lesson of being patient enough to make their dreams come true.

Beyond the Surface © Photo by Marco Cappelletti, courtesy of OMA and Solid Nature

Beyond the Surface © Photo by Marco Cappelletti, courtesy of OMA and Solid Nature

 

 

Isabella Fernandez de Castro
Visual Design student, Milan
School
MILANO DESIGN
Course
Programme
undergraduate-BA (Hons) Degrees · 3-Year courses