The secrets of Triennale di Milano

And the birth of Italian Design

by Lavinia Colonna Preti
The secrets of Triennale di Milano — Lombardia Secrets

The history of Triennale di Milano, today one of the most important design-related institutions in the world, blends with that of the birth of Made in Italy and some of the most significant cultural pages of our country.

The Milan Triennale was founded in 1933 when, following the testamentary legacy of the entrepreneur, politician and patron-of-arts Antonio Bernocchi who had donated the sum for its construction to the Municipality, the then Palazzo Bernocchi was inaugurated with the aim of hosting the International Biennial of Decorative Arts which until that date had been held at the Royal Palace of Monza.

Under the guidance of architects Gio Ponti and Mario Sironi, the exhibition became triennial and took the name of Triennale di Milano – International exhibition of modern decorative and industrial arts and modern architecture.

The exhibition gradually acquired authority and centrality over the years in bringing together the great creative talents who were emerging in the meantime in Milan: it is above all a new generation of architects – Franco Albini, the brothers Livio, Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni, Marcello Nizzoli, Alberto Rosselli and Marco Zanuso just to name a few – to begin taking an interest for the first time, as well as in building design, also in the creation of objects for the home.

The secrets of Triennale di Milano — Lombardia Secrets

The Trienniale Exhibition will see only one stop due to the Second World War, during which the Palazzo dell’Arte Bernocchi will suffer the Nazi occupation, until 1947, the year that marks the reopening of its spaces to the public.

It was precisely at the end of the 1940s that, also thanks to the buzz growing around the Triennale, Design as we know it today was born: a “Renaissance flame”, as defined by various critics, characterized by a vision, unique in the world, that embraces theory, technique and craftsmanship, still today the hallmarks of the Made in Italy. We are, in fact, in the post-World War II period which saw in our country the promotion of the relationship between industry, art and society as a necessity driven both by the strong currency and the need to convert the production of many factories into civilian, after the war effort.

The secrets of Triennale di Milano — Lombardia Secrets
The secrets of Triennale di Milano — Lombardia Secrets

A decade later, the Triennale will witness the years leading up to the economic boom of the 1960s when, for the first time, the work of the designers arrived in the homes of all Italians who discovered the first household appliances and consumer electronics. It is the period in which the most iconic design objects were born, just think of some masterpieces (now on display at the Triennale) such as the Visetta sewing machine by Gio Ponti from 1948 or Algol 11, the portable television designed in 1964 by Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper for Brionvega, so beautiful that it is still in production.
And in those years, the Teatro della Triennale also became an experimental location for the first Italian television broadcasts where the legendary programs “Arrivals and Departures” and “Leave or Double” by famous TV host Mike Bongiorno were shot.

The end of the 60s saw, however, the beginning of pop culture that made its icons protagonists of the design itself, creating cult objects such as the UFO table lamp, created by the homonymous collective of designers in 1968 and inspired by the one with the dollar symbol that Uncle Scrooge had in his studio, or the Bocca sofa by Gufram made by the architects of Studio65, a tribute to the famous installation by Dalì with the lips of Hollywood actress Mae West (also on display).

The secrets of Triennale di Milano — Lombardia Secrets

Once again the protagonist of the social history of a nation, in those years the Piper Club opened in the spaces of the Triennale, the name by which the Palazzo dell’Arte is now called by the Milanese people, which became a reference point for live concerts by great artists, from Patty Pravo to Jimi Hendrix. It is from this legacy that in 1970, after a renovation, the legendary Old Fashion disco was born, which takes its name from the homonymous cocktail, the protagonist of the Milanese nightlife for several decades.

The centrality of the Triennale in the world of international design resulted in 2007 with the inauguration of the Design Museum, the first permanent museum of Italian design in the world that has a collection of 1,600 objects created from 1927 to the present.

Today the Triennale, in addition to the famous exhibition that reaches its 23rd edition in 2022 and the permanent Design Museum, hosts various events and temporary thematic exhibitions throughout the year, as well as a dense theatrical program. And, between one exhibition and another, you can take a break at the Caffè Triennale or at the Caffè in Giardino in summer, while for a panoramic lunch you can book at the Terrazza Triennale – Osteria con Vista, a transparent greenhouse with a view of Parco Sempione and the Milan skyline.

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Triennale Milano

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