#20 - Milan Design Week

Chipperfield’s Floor War


Courtesy of David Chipperfield Architects

David Chipperfield’s Museo Della Cultura (Mudec), a repurposed steel factory on the outskirts of Milan, has won praises for its spare industrial aesthetic. The 60 million-euro project, a series of zinc clad boxy buildings arrayed around a curved glass structure, opened in March of last year. However, the long-running conflict between Chipperfield and Milan’s Assessore alla Cultura, known to locals at the “floor war,” appears to be still unresolved.

The architect and Milan’s Assessore alla Cultura have been trading barbs over the flooring at the museum since 2013, when the agency’s officials notified Chipperfield that they were installing a floor different from the one that the architect had specifiedBasaltina—lava stone sourced from an area near the ancient city of Viterbo in central Italy, which the architect already has used in his designs for Dolce & Gabbana boutiques throughout the world. Basaltina lava stone is known for its subtle coloring and texture and it also has been used in Gae Aulenti’s New Asian Art Museum and the Vatican Museums. However, according to Italy’s L’Expresso magazine, in order to save money, the city of Milan chose instead to use an Etna lava stone from Sicily.

Many observers have noted that much of the approximately 5,000 meters of Etna lava stone that ended up getting laid at Mudec is scratched and stained, with misaligned pieces.

city hall milan architecture archiexpo David Chipperfield Architects

Damaged floor. Courtesy of Huffington Post.

For Chipperfield, the floor replacement is a design desecration of the first order and he has offered to forego part of his fee to remediate the situation. “It is regrettable that the floor has been laid in an unacceptable quality,” Chipperfield stated in a 2015 letter to the mayor of Milan, adding, “Unless there is a positive common resolution, I believe the reputation of the project and the future of the Mudec will be contaminated.”

However, the Assessore alla Cultura has accused Chipperfield of “incomprehensible inflexibility” in attempts to reach a resolution.

Some critics have been more forgiving.  “The floors are horrible, they are streaky and uneven and unworthy of a David Chipperfield building,” the architectural writer Fred Bernstein wrote in a Huffington Post blog last year.

However, although he found shortcomings in the floor, Bernstein encouraged Chipperfield not to disown the building, writing, “You should embrace the building anyway. Because it’s wonderful. So wonderful that no one will be looking down.”

About the Author

Alex Ulam is a freelance journalist and design critic based in New York.

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