Exploring Milan's colourful surfaces through Stefan Giftthaler's lens
Photographer Stefan Giftthaler explored the imaginative mosaic of Milan's urban architecture, just days before the city was plunged into lockdown
Who said urban, modern architecture needs to be grey and colourless? Milan's numerous bright and colourful building surfaces are a case in point that architecture in densely built environments can offer much more; and locally based photographer Stefan Giftthaler set out to explore this aspect through his most recent series, Surfaces of Milan.
‘This project was inspired by the city of Milan itself,' says Giftthaler. ‘I really like walking around the city, exploring the different neighbourhoods and discovering their atmospheres. During these walks I was fascinated by the presence of these decorations spread all over Milan that create a sort of secret colourful constellation inside the city.'
The project started in March 2020, just a few days before the first pandemic lockdown was enforced in Italy, and the series now consists of some 50 photographs. It includes a mix of residential and commercial buildings, such as shopping ‘galerias', with their amazing mosaic floors.
The structures span a variety of geographical areas and budgets, but were mostly produced in the 1960s and 70s. ‘These kinds of decorations are all hand made and would have been quite expensive to produce,' says Giftthaler. ‘Nowadays it is difficult to imagine such an expense when building affordable housing for example. But I think at the time there was the idea that through beauty and design, society could become a better place. In my opinion this shows also how in Milanese design is something that comes literally from the street. Everyone is touched by it and it is not intended for just the elite.'
Many architects from that era, such as Bruno Munari, Piero Bottoni, Marco Zanuso, Luigi Caccia Dominioni and Francesco Somaini, used mosaics in their work, collaborating with craftspeople and artisans – and not all of the artwork is created by well known authors. In fact most creators' names are lesser known or even remain unknown.
And even though the splashes of colour these pieces provide seem omnipresent across Milan, they still do remain slightly under the radar. ‘The trickiest thing [in creating the series] was that people couldn’t really understand what it was that I found so special and interesting about this old decorations,' says the photographer. ‘So I had to explain it every time [for every shot].'
Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture Editor at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018) and Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020).
Last chance to see: Sharjah Biennial 15, ‘Thinking Historically in the Present’
Built on the vision of late curator Okwui Enwezor, the Sharjah Biennial 15: ‘Thinking Historically in the Present’ offers a critical reframing of postcolonial narratives through major new commissions
By Amah-Rose Abrams • Published
For London Gallery Weekend 2023, the mood is hardcore
With London Gallery Weekend 2023 almost upon us (2 – 4 June), here’s our list of must-see art exhibitions
By Harriet Lloyd-Smith • Published
Birkenstock celebrates its most memorable styles with colourful capsule (and matching socks)
Birkenstock marks the 40th, 50th and 60th anniversaries of the Gizeh, Arizona and Madrid sandals, respectively, with limited-edition versions
By Jack Moss • Published
Inside Ricardo Bofill’s Walden 7, a cathedral of postmodern curiosity
A new series by architectural photographer Sebastian Weiss takes us on a tour of Walden 7, Ricardo Bofill’s majestic Catelonian apartment building – a cathedral of utopian curiosity and community
By Harriet Lloyd-Smith • Published
Heaven on Earth: architect Toshiko Mori curates Candida Höfer’s sublime new photography show
At Sean Kelly, New York, architect Toshiko Mori is curating a new show by Candida Höfer, spanning a 30-year period of the German photographer’s spatially sublime work
By Pei-Ru Keh • Published
10 Wallpaper* photography moments of 2022, from piña coladas to Pipilotti Rist
The most memorable Wallpaper* photography moments of 2022, courtesy of our esteemed photo desk
By Holly Hay • Published
‘Site Unseen’ explores viewing and documenting architecture through photography
The Center of Contemporary Photography in Melbourne invites us to ‘Site Unseen', an exhibition about different ways of viewing and documenting architecture
By Ellie Stathaki • Last updated
Charity art platform Double Dutch puts the cool in cash gifting
Conceived by Inez and Vinoodh as an ‘all cash, zero trash’ initiative, Double Dutch rethinks the ‘flawed’ gifting process with the help of world-renowned contemporary artists including Cindy Sherman and Maurizio Cattelan
By Harriet Lloyd Smith • Last updated
‘What would beyonce do’: an unconventional portrayal of Italian life
Photographer Leone Balduzzi captures suburban Italian life in a new book of self-portraits, titled What would beyonce do
By Mary Cleary • Last updated
A photographic trip through America’s roadside façades
In her ongoing series, The Mother Road, Hayley Eichenbaum documents the tainted romanticism of roadside architecture on Route 66 in the American Southwest
By Harriet Lloyd-Smith • Last updated
Richard Mosse: when a weapon becomes a tool for storytelling
Documentary photographer Richard Mosse’s first retrospective charts a career of subverting conventional narratives of war, immigration and climate change
By Sophie Gladstone • Last updated