Aesthetics of Misery @ Salone Milan 2015

Aesthetics of Misery @ Salone Milan 2015

palazzo litta damn exhibition

At the baroque Lombard 18th century Palazzo Litta, project curators Andrea Branzi ( co-founder of Domus Academy, the first international graduate design school) and Michele De Lucchi ( expo 2015 Zero pavilion designer ) presented 16 projects of “social environment”, based on the concept of misery, a subject always expressed in arts, cinema and literature but basically alien to the Salone design culture.

They were shown against the contrasting opulence of the Palazzo Litta’s frescoed ceilings and gilded cornices ( shown in the in the Stanza degli Specchi = room of mirrors).

Organised in collaboration with Oikos ( colour and matter for sustainable architecture and design ), during the Salone “Aesthetics of Misery” was born as a result of a postgraduate experimental workshop at the Politecnico di Milano, overseen by Francesca Balena Arista and Marco De Santi, during which students were asked to take on the theme of misery, almost always excluded from aesthetics design.

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De Lucchi said .. “Misery is not a disease but a condition that also belongs to reality.”

Misery is not to be meant in a negative sense, it’s more the simplicity of living with less in a world that likes to have more.

“At the beginning we thought it would be quite a strange experience for us as teachers, because we didn’t know what would come out,” says De Lucchi. “But our intention was just to give the students questions that are not conventional questions for designers. Poverty is something we’re all touched by in society.”

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Aesthetics of Misery” presented 16 beautifully wrought models of the kind of architectural environments – among them Naples slums and Brazilian favelas, refugee camps, makeshift structures under highways or bridges and other forms of temporary shelter and burnt out and bombed out houses—that are rarely discussed around Salone time

It was a strong and welcome tonic

The students developed their projects with an objective to represent such environments in decay and disuse with materials left to “age”.

The exhibition presents projects based on the concept of misery that originates from poverty.

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The buildings of the world’s poorest have been reconstructed, with the attention to detail that is almost Flemish, to depict without abstractions, decay and precariousness. They are super refined models of things, that you see, that belong to reality that are able to say much more than a model, projected onto the future rather than simply projected onto a condition of desperation

The installation is a journey to decadence and insecurity as well as an exploration in a new concept of sustainable design through new ideas

The goal is an extreme and brutally realistic reflection on the themes of decadence, insecurity and wear which characterise poverty and are strangers to the glossy world of contemporary design..

Today’s ruins, interstitial spaces occupied by squatters, makeshift shelters built with towels, cardboard, metal sheets. Shabby, forgotten interiors.  They’re only models but the layer of dirt, soil, cement and dust is real

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De Lucchi “Where do you read hardship ? Where does hardship tell you something more than simply the lack of something ? Because hardship isn’t a lack of something. Hardship is knowing how to respond to your needs, certainly a low one but a very particular one in your existence.”

Design is not only a practical discipline,” says De Lucchi, “It’s a discipline that touches all the questions we have on our minds today.”

aesthetics of misery milan 2015 salone

The construction of the models was exemplary, each becoming its own ruined microcosm of collapsing stucco, rusted, mangled iron, frayed hessian and burnt wood.

Rather poetically for the Salone, models of broken-down chairs abounded.

aesthetics of misery salone milan 2015

It is undeniable that the models do little to engage with poverty beyond representing it (and is there something wrongheaded about making your primary concern with poverty its “aesthetics”?), but Branzi and De Lucchi ought to be applauded for introducing the topic into design education.

Aesthetics of Misery moved away from the Salone’s consumerism, gesturing towards the fact that design must concern itself with more than product. Social problems are fair game too.

Poverty is not hidden in full darkness, but it needs to be dragged out into the light of day. Anything that makes us reflect upon the issues that it raises – even if just a representation – should be commended.


A conversation with Andrea Branzi and Michele De Lucchi
April 15th, 8.00 pm

de lucchi and branzi

andrea branzi in conversation

We looked at the idea of the penumbra for this project,” says De Lucchi. “It’s an environment which isn’t in full light, nor is it in full darkness.”

The penumbra seems an apt metaphor for how society views poverty. We are aware that it exists, yet consistently overlook it, turning blind eye in order to avoid dealing with the political reform required to eradicate it.

Statistics tell us that, worldwide, 1.01 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day (and this is considered a conservative estimate), yet there is limited political or social appetite to redress this; Oxfam estimates that by 2016, the richest 1 per cent of the world’s population will control more wealth than the remaining 99.

de lucchi and branzi 2

michele de lucchi in conversation




The exhibition explored the concept of sustainable design and the design research which originates from the meaning of matter, understood as the source of ideas and objects.

This is a fundamental theme for OIKOS, who has been engaged for years in researching and testing sustainable, ecological materials and colours, based on the recovery and reuse of waste materials, carefully attentive to the needs of the most refined international designers.

Avoiding the help of advanced technology and supported by the experience of the Oikos research and development centre, the students created models using materials left to “age” and “ruin”: burnt wood, rusted metal, worn fabrics.

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