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Behind the Building: Fondazione Prada by OMA

This cultural center features a variety of unique finishes, from million-year-old stone to space-age metallic foam.

Jon Cornachio Jon Cornachio

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After decades of hosting temporary art shows in abandoned garages and derelict churches, the Fondazione Prada has opened its first permanent exhibition space within the walls of an old gin distillery in Milan. Designed by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), this cultural center comprises ten buildings — seven existing structures, dating back to 1910, and three new constructions — which combine to form a sprawling complex of art galleries, performance spaces, cafes and public plazas.

Fondazione Prada by OMA

Image via OMA

“The Fondazione is not a preservation project and is not a new architecture,” explained Rem Koolhaas, the founder of OMA, “Two conditions that are usually kept separate here confront each other in a state of permanent interaction – offering an ensemble of fragments… New, old, horizontal, vertical, wide, narrow, white, black, open, and enclosed.” Its design is characterized by a collision of architectural styles and construction techniques, some time-honored, others wholly original.

From million-year-old stone to space-age metallic foam, this cultural center features a variety of unique finishes bound to inspire your next spec sheet:

Fondazione Prada by OMA

Photo by Bas Princen; via Fondazione Prada

Aluminum Foam

Manufactured by Cymat Technologies

At the heart of the complex is a contemporary gallery, dubbed the Podium. Its façades, soffits, interior walls and ceilings are all clad in Alusion, a metallic foam created by injecting air into molten aluminum. Although typically used by the military to protect against explosions, the foam’s flame-resistant, sound-absorbing surface makes it surprisingly suitable for museum applications.

Fondazione Prada by OMA

Photo by Iwan Baan.

Curtain Walls

Manufactured by Zanetti

Unlike the original masonry buildings, which are solid with few fenestrations, the Podium is open and inviting, featuring long expanses of high-purity glazing. In a playful nod to Milan’s classical architecture, these glass façades are supported by deep, colonnade-like mullions with their doorways recessed beneath aluminum arches.

Fondazione Prada by OMA

Photo by Bas Princen; via Fondazione Prada

Gold Leaf

Manufactured by Teknolitos

Adjacent to the Podium is the Haunted House, a gallery dedicated to site-specific artworks. Its entire exterior, including gutters and window mullions, was refinished in 24-karat gold leaf. “We discovered that gold is actually a cheap cladding material compared to traditional claddings like marble and even paint,” said Koolhaas, “What I love is the way it contaminates the walls around it… The environment needed a little color.”

Fondazione Prada by OMA

Photo by Luca Onniboni; via Archiobjects

Mirrored Stainless Steel

Manufactured by AZA Aghito Zambonini

Opposite the Podium and Haunted House is a 200-seat auditorium clad in highly-polished stainless steel. The center panels are affixed to massive, bi-folding doors which, when opened, enable performances to spill out into the courtyard. When closed, these mirrored panels cause the building to become invisible, disappearing into its context.

Fondazione Prada by OMA

Photo by Iwan Baan

Concrete Surfaces

Manufactured by Italcementi

The existing masonry façades have been renewed with a skim coat of light-colored cement, manufactured by an Italian concrete company. Aggregates of white Carrara marble were added to the cement mixture, giving these timeworn structures a subtle sparkle.

Fondazione Prada by OMA

Photo by OMA; via Architect Magazine

Hardwood Pavers

Manufactured by Odorizzi

In addition to granite cobblestones, the plaza and pathways have been repaved with oak setts, fabricated from salvaged railroad ties. Although uncommon today, these wooden pavers were popular in 19th century Europe as they were more comfortable than stone and less noisy under horse-drawn carriages.

Fondazione Prada by OMA

Photo via EPSE

Polycarbonate Panels

Manufactured by EPSE

In contrast to the old-world surroundings, the main lobby and ticket window are clad in polycarbonate panels which lend the space a futuristic atmosphere. These multi-wall panels are self-supporting and treated with a custom matte finish, allowing them to be backlit without shadows from supports or fasteners.

Fondazione Prada by OMA

Photo via Fantini Group

Travertine Flooring

Manufactured by Fantini Group

The Podium galleries are floored in an Italian limestone, known as travertine, which complements the museum’s sculpture collection. Here, works from antiquity are displayed on an artificial landscape, created by elevating slabs of travertine on plates of thick, acrylic glass.

Fondazione Prada by OMA

Photo by Delfino Sisto Legnani; via Fondazione Prada

LED Lighting

Manufactured by Zumtobel

The new interior spaces are illuminated by Linaria light lines by Zumtobel which peek out between the aluminum ceiling panels. These long beams of light appear to extend beyond the contemporary glass façades, as if the building itself is reaching out to its historic neighbors.


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