The factory and the museum have become symbols of our age. They represent work and culture respectively, two apparently distinct fields of life. Today, though, this distinction is less clear-cut. Factories tell their stories through museums, explaining to the world how work itself produces culture and how culture affects industry. The Molteni Group is well aware of this relationship and invited Ron Gilad to rethink its museum at its HQ in Giussano, north of Milan, an exhibition space with a short but storied history.

Molteni Museum by Ron Gilad in Giussano

A light-filled corridor in the Molteni Museum, Giussano. The space features skylights and the corridor’s walls display an installation of wooden frames with archive drawings and photographs

The original museum, designed by Jasper Morrison in a renovated factory building, was opened in 2015, bringing together 48 key Molteni Group designs. A year earlier, the company had opened the Glass Cube, a 400 sq m space designed by Gilad for temporary exhibitions. More recently, Morrison’s display was removed to make way for extra showroom space and Gilad was charged with repurposing his transparent pavilion, in the lush green of the company park, to provide a setting for the group’s permanent collection of historic furniture as well as for temporary exhibitions. 

The new museum is divided by angular walls that create a series of distinct spaces. Historic photographs and documents are presented on a system of wooden boards. What was an open courtyard at the heart of the building has been covered to create a central gallery, now with a large skylight and perfect for hanging two-dimensional pieces, whereas the spaces that make up the rest of the pavilion are much more agile and able to feature objects and large items of furniture. 

The series of right angles that make up the new layout give an idea of perspective from the outside and create movement. The perimeter of the perfectly square building is almost entirely transparent except for the solid walls that serve as the two external sides of a new enclosed courtyard positioned in one corner. What was space for electrics and services has now been opened up with internal glass walls apparently floating on the white gravel.

This part of the museum features designs by Gio Ponti, and Afra and Tobia Scarpa, and Aldo Rossi’s theatre seats designed in collaboration with Luca Meda. Another section explores the technological innovations that have resulted from collaborations with the likes of Norman Foster, Jean Nouvel, Rodolfo Dordoni and Vincent Van Duysen. 

As with any good contemporary museum, physical artefacts are given digital context. Molteni has produced documentaries and digital animations that chart the company’s history; these are screened within the new museum and available online. §