The urban jungle setting of an abandoned military hospital seems an unlikely location for design projects that address mental health, cultural identity and the climate emergency, but Alcova surprises once again. An independent platform for freethinking, Alcova was established by Valentina Ciuffi and Joseph Grima back at Milan Design Week in 2018. This fourth edition, held during Milan Design Week 2022 and located at Centro Ospedaliero Militare di Baggio is the most ambitious display, with showcases from schools, museums, emerging talent and brands.

Alcova 2022: a current snapshot of design

‘This is America.’ at Alcova
‘This is America’. Photography: Jonathan Hokklo

There’s a recipe for creating a show with so many layers. ‘Our networks are complementary,’ says Ciuffi, founder of Studio Vedèt. ‘Joseph [founder of Space Caviar] is more tied to institutional realities such as museums, academies and schools, I’m more in contact with galleries and companies of small and great importance.’

Alcova has evolved as an experimental ground for design since it launched, and ‘in a spontaneous and surprising way this community has become bigger and bigger, yet manages to preserve its original nature’, muses Ciuffi. There’s a couple of new elements for 2022, like ‘Curated by Alcova’, where Ciuffi and Grima ‘decided to curate a small selection of international exhibitors that we support, and give them a free stage’. Included is an installation by Spanish designer Jorge Penadés, who was inspired by kinesiology tape used for human injuries. The design version? He uses brightly coloured tape and wood to create furniture such as a ping pong table.

‘Tape! Tape! Tape!’ by Jorge Penadés as part of ‘Curated by Alcova.’
‘Tape! Tape! Tape!’ by Jorge Penadés as part of ‘Curated by Alcova’

‘It is a snapshot of what design is at the moment,’ Ciuffi explains of the exhibitions. ‘Confession’ by design studio Tableau and therapeutic clinic Post Service looks at men’s mental health through the lens of art and design. Fourteen pieces by the likes of Kevin Josias, Paul Cournet and Lab La Bla respond to issues of anxiety, self-learning and dissociation through materiality.

‘There is a lot of toxic masculinity in many military institutions,’ comments Julius Værnes Iversen, creative director and curator at Tableau, on the coincidence that such an emotive display is situated inside an ex-military location and former mental institution. ‘The narrative of “Confession” is in general created in order to change our society towards a more open-minded community.’

‘CONFESSION’ by TABLEAU and Post Service
‘Confession’ by Tableau and Post Service. Photography: Mattia Parodi

Stereotypes around the identity of American designers are disrupted at ‘This is America’, a show that celebrates and platforms the diverse talent of those who work in design in the nation.

Meanwhile, our relationship with the end of life is questioned too at ‘Urne.rip’, a project that rethinks the concept of loss and void through cinerary urns designed by artists in abstract shapes and materials. 

solar kiosk at alcova
‘The Solar Energy Kiosk’ presented by Het Nieuwe Instituut. Photography: Isa de Jong

Clever solutions around energy and natural resources are found at ‘The Solar Energy Kiosk’ presented by Het Nieuwe Instituut, a joyful pop-up designed by Rotterdam-based design studio Cream on Chrome. Located outdoors, this juice bar is powered by Milanese sunlight, driving the wheels of the machine and producing freshly squeezed orange juice. The travelling kiosk explores the possibilities of solar energy and will head to ‘The Energy Show – Sun, Solar and Human Power,’ curated by Matylda Krzykowski in Rotterdam in September.

Elsewhere, Makkink & Bey look at what Ciuffi describes as ‘a problem that will soon be part of our everyday life’ – water shortage. ‘WaterSchool’ imagines a new type of education around water, and takes a ‘learning by doing’ approach. 

cafe populaire at alcova
Lambert & Fils and DWA’s ‘Caffè Populaire’

On the experiential side, Solid Nature’s installation invites audiences into a monolithic feat of illuminated stone by OMA that led to designer Sabine Marcelis’ playfully pink onyx bathroom design. Those looking for calm among the bustle (and heat) of Salone del Mobile can head to Lambert & Fils and DWA’s ‘Caffè Populaire’ for a moment with wildflowers, and gentle pouring water. 

Essentially, Alcova’s eclectic format offers valuable conversation starters. Says Ciuffi, ‘The show is interested in design, but also in making people get to know each other – among different areas of the design fields –  and get to meet different audiences.’ §

‘The kitchen for cooking’ by Chmara.Rosinke
‘The kitchen for cooking’ by Chmara.Rosinke. Photography: Mattia Parodi
 Mattia Parodi
Laila Gohar and CIAM. Photography: Mattia Parodi
urns at alcova
‘Urne.rip’ Photography: Tommaso Tanini
Babu Vase from Peaches collection by Bohinc Studio
‘Babu’ vase from the ‘Peaches’ collection by Bohinc Studio
‘Monumental Wonders’ pink marble tub by Sabine Marcelis for Solid Nature
‘Monumental Wonders’ by Sabine Marcelis for Solid Nature
urns at alcova