Decoding the design: Fondazione Prada

Housed in a former industrial complex on the southern skirts of Milan, Fondazione Prada amalgamates art and design under the guidance of luxury fashion label Prada.

The site was originally a gin distillery dating to the 1910’s. Now it’s a permanent cultural home for Prada’s contemporary art and culture collection. It’s a place for ideas to grow together across disciplines, and “embodies the overall aim towards reinvention”.

Completed in 2018, the physical site provides dedicated space for the Foundation’s display of art, design, architecture, philosophy, and fashion, as well as cinema and performance art.

The complex features a number of ingenious and traditional materials melded together with contrasting architectural features to create a truly landmark space.


Completed by the architectural studio of OMA, where the famed architect Rem Koolhaas is a partner.

For the architects, it was always about the relationship between old and new. So the idea for executing their designs was to fuse old and new together, rather than replace or restore. Like Koolhass says, “I generally believe that we shouldn’t tear down buildings that are still usable.”

Old meets new with original buildings and the Torre building at Fondazione prada

He added, “our aim with the Fondazione Prada is to create a spectrum of materials and colours.” Hence the use of whites, greys and flashy gold throughout, representing either end of the spectrum of old and new.

The site originally consisted of seven buildings. The project added an additional three structures: Podium, Cinema and Torre.

Podium is the centre gallery of the Fondazione. Clad in the aluminium foam, the central building houses exhibitions and events and sits adjacent to the Cinema. Cinema is a multi-purpose building with fully functioning theatre with a screening program. The space is also used for special events and lectures.

The final piece of the puzzle, the Prada Tower or ‘Torre’, was the last stage to be completed. The nine storey tower is finished in exposed white concrete and each floor is taller than the level before. The rooftop hosts a bar and 360-degree views of surrounding Milan. The tower offers even more gallery space for the foundation’s art exhibitions, as well as a restaurant.

Black and white tiles make a hypnotic pattern on the rooftop of Fondazione Prada

The white monolith tower contrasts greatly against the skyline. It’s wedged between the brutal silver Podium that is wrapped in aluminum foam panels and the adjacent gold-foil facade—all 24-karat gold leaf to be precise—of one of the site’s original buildings. The building, aptly nicknamed the “haunted house”, is also home to the permanent collection.

The overall complex doesn’t aim to create adhesion or renovate the existing site, rather preserve and add to it. Much like adding a contrasting contemporary extension onto a classic Victorian home.

This idea of creating a hybrid design, using contemporary and classic queues, feeds back into the Foundation’s aim of reinvention.


The Torre’s rooftop terrace makes use of Absolute porcelain tiles in black and white, laid in concentric and contrasting circles to achieve a hypnotising pattern.

Alusion, a metallic aluminium foam created by injecting air into molten aluminium, clads the entire Podium building inside and out. Typically used in military applications, this material’s fire resistance makes it perfect for Galleries where precious collections need to be protected from disasters.

Gold leaf, some four kilos in total, covers the facade of one of the site’s original buildings. The team discovered that it can actually work out cheaper than traditional cladding materials like natural stone.

Gold leaf facade of Fondazione Prada

There’s also a heavy presence of glass curtain walls that are supported by mullions and aluminium arches. As well as mirrored stainless steel that creates a reflective exterior.

The project doesn’t skip classic Italian materials either. Paying homage to its roots, the complex utilises Travertine and other natural stones throughout.

Get the look

Think of your colour and material palette as a spectrum. Find how you can compliment and contrast textures. Perhaps a space could use shades of one colour, but contrast hard and soft materials like timber and metal.

Consider how you might use Absolute porcelain tiles in black and white at home. Whether it’s in an intricate pattern like the Fondazione, or a checkerboard, the classic palette adds an extra style element to any space.

The Fondazione also features Travertine flooring. The hard wearing stone is great in residential applications, especially when sealed for extra durability—check out our range of different colour variations.

Adding another unique element to the project, hardwood tiles pave the way in key areas. You could replicate this with wood-look porcelain tiles like Woodstock in Coffee Wood.

Contrasting contemporary and classic design queues is one of the biggest trends in international design. It’s a great way to preserve history, while adding your chapter to the story. Melding original facades with modern interiors is one example of a ‘spectrum’ approach, but this trend doesn’t have to be applied on a large scale.

Take an old space like a spare room that needs updating and keep some of the heritage elements like hardwood floors or ceiling roses and work in aluminium furniture, or a sleek and dark natural stone benchtop.

To learn more about International Trends and classic materials, visit our showroom at 484 Church St, Richmond, or for more information phone us on (03) 9427 9100.