Unlike the fields of graphic design, product design and architecture, there are very few or almost no critical opportunities for reviewing and reflecting upon the discipline of interior architecture – a strange situation when you consider the huge influence and direct impact that architectural interiors have on our everyday lives. 

It was when observing this anomaly, and the fact that the most recent and significant exhibitions dedicated to interior architecture took place over 30 years ago, that architect Beppe Finessi came up with the idea for new exhibition, 'Rooms: Novel Living Concepts' now open at Milan’s Triennale.

The exhibition begins by providing a little historical context – an overview of great interiors through the ages from the 1920s to the present day, by Italian masters such as Gio Ponti, Franco Albini and Ettore Sottsass – with a layout that Finessi likens to as a ‘three-dimensional encyclopedia’. From here, visitors are invited to experience a series of experimental interiors created by ten of Italy’s greatest architecture and design studios, including Fabio Novembre, Alessandro Mendini, Umberto Riva and Elisabetta Terragni. 

Designed to convey each designer’s unique philosophy, the room sets are presented with insightful statements provided by each. ‘For a long time, forever in fact, I have felt as though I were living shut inside a prison. Serving a life sentence for the crime of ornamentation,’ writes Alessandro Mendini in the introduction to his optical interior, which is made from bold black and white planks of ABET Laminate – his all time favourite material.

Elsewhere, Fabio Novembre invites us into his dark, scarlet leather-lined room that takes the shape of a hollow human head. Clad in mirrors on the outside, visitors enter through the mouth, where two golden vestal virgins stand sentry, before reclining on the sofa inside and listening to ‘a stream of consciousness’ played out in a male voice over speakers. ‘The visitor finds himself inside himself, looking at himself from within,’ explains Novembre of the surreal experience. 

Other highlights include Umberto Riva’s 16-metre-square 'La Petite Chambre', a ‘respectful yet critical’ response to Corbusier’s Cabanon with practical tweaks that include moving the WC away from the bed and into an independent unit. Realised in birch and clad in cedar wood shingles, the Milanese chambre serves as a reflection on the amount of space a person effectively needs.

An undoubted highlight of the museum's XXI International Exhibition programme, 'Rooms: Novel Living Concepts' runs at La Triennale di Milano until 12 September.