A Fair of the Heart? Milan 2012

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    Milan is a great city hosting a great fair. But is it too big to be worth a visit? Magazines send teams to cover the show, but even reporters say they couldn’t get into the parties because they were “rammed”. As for stands, the fairground boasts over 2,500 whilst there are another 500 formal and informal showcases in the city itself. However big your team how can one do other than pick products randomly from this number of stands? Web searches are surely a better way of researching than spending a week toiling around these great sheds The fair is the size of anything at the NEC plus Sleep plus Decorex all rolled into one (but being Italian at least the showground is designed with a great deal more flair than the NEC).

    The view of many in the exhibitions industry is that the future lies with these mega shows but I wonder, do they really serve the design industry? Are they too big to be worthwhile?
    Milan has 24 halls, pairs of halls labelled for various types of exhibitors – Kitchens, Bathrooms etc.. This at least narrows the number of halls an individual needs to look at. But there is no real differentiation between contract and domestic suppliers so finding relevant exhibitors is difficult. There is a moving walkway along the centre of the fairground, but it is nearly 2 kilometres long. The underground rail service arrives at an entrance so far from the press point that a bus is necessary to get to the relevant entrance. The publications list is so long that the press office gives out rucksacks to visiting press – bright red so that they become easily identifiable to exhibitors.

    The fair itself is an endurance event. In the bathroom section alone there are over 170 exhibitors. Few show the innovation of Laufen, and some show downright bad design, even dangerous pieces in the context of an area where soap, water and nakedness are always going to make for an environment where hazard needs to be designed out. Just before I came to Milan I heard a BBC discussion in which an eminent designer said that recently if a designer started talking functionality in the cerebral world of high design he was sneered at as ‘trade’. Milan supported that thesis with design for dramatic impact overcoming any idea of functionality on so many stands. Whatever happened to form following function?

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    Daniel Fountain / 23.04.2012

    Editor, Hotel Designs


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