In its usual creepy-cool fashion, Alcova 2023 invaded the grounds of former slaughterhouse Ex-Macello di Porta Vittoria with the more experimental and progressive side of Milan’s high-end design landscape. More than 100 exhibitors, both recognizable brands and rising designers, set up site-specific installations of their work, filling the spaces with material innovations and displays to challenge the senses.
The abandoned abattoir, still with meat hooks hung from the ceiling and walls covered in graffiti, greeted more than 90,000 people throughout Milan Design Week. Yet the site is in a clear phase of transition—in the near future, the grounds will be transformed in a masterplan by Snøhetta to become social housing and a museum.
Alcova filled the ex-abattoir this year after invading an abandoned military hospital in 2022. Curators Valentina Ciuffi (founder of Studio Vedèt) and Joseph Grima (founder of Space Caviar) plan to keep the exhibition moving for coming editions, reflecting both the transitory reality of the design world and to avoid gentrification of the sites themselves.
Alcova 2023 solidified itself as a must-see event during Milan Design Week. Even on rainy Thursday, when exhibitors had to put buckets under open sections of the roof, attendees swarmed the grounds with umbrellas in hand. Here are 15 of our favorite exhibitors whose material and sensory experiences were well worth waiting in line in the rain to see:
1. “Public Space with Private Intentions” by Mira Bergh and Josefin Zachrisson
Swedish artists and designers Mira Bergh and Josefin Zachrisson created “Public Space with Private Intentions,” an extension of Utomhusverket 2022 at a larger scale for Alcova. Directly in front of the ex-abattoir’s main outdoor hallway, the seating collection reinterprets the rules for private interaction in public spaces.
2. “Cor” by Agglomerati
Australian designer Tom Feredey joined London-based studio Agglomerati to create “Cor” (the Latin word for heart). Light emerges from organic, hollowed out caves set within a series of monolithic Roman travertine sculptures.
3. “Expériences Immobiles” by Les Eaux Primordiales
Les Eaux Primordiales takes visitors on a sensory journey with “Expériences Immobiles.” DWA designed the olfactory installation to mimic industrial buildings in northern France. Each side of the wooden structures contain a series of tubes and vials, as well as glass vessels from which visitors could whiff the perfumes Les Eaux Primordiales.
4. “Rhythms” by Leolux and Studio Truly Truly
Dutch furniture brand Leolux presented their new collection designed by Studiopepe in a multisensory exhibit with Studio Truly Truly. The scent of stroopwafels greets visitors from a stand at the exhibit’s entrance, while large textile masses rise and lower to reveal and draw the curtain over the collection in a dynamic, sculptural display.
5. “Solar Flare Sunset” by Monstrum Studio
Italian design company Monstrum Studio launched its newest collection, Solar Flare Sunset, at Alcova 2023 with an experiential display. The black lacquered Lilith chair, Hya lighting, Spettro sconces, Lucifuge ceiling light, and Yoni triangular pin tray sat atop black sand against a wall broadcasting a constant sunset.
6. “Primitive Island” by Elisa Uberti
Elisa Uberti’s “Primitive Island” recreates the warm earth and tender forms of the natural landscapes of Africa (mangrove forests, red mountains, and calm lagoons) in gingerbread and white stone lamps. The lamps are designed to reach toward the sun in naive, curving forms.
7. “Stone Archive” by Studio Davidpompa
The Mexico City-based design studio Davidpompa shows a new collection of lighting sculptures, “Ambra Toba,” from minerals, glass, and volcanic rock. Fragments in the light’s surfaces call back to the volcanic explosions. Each piece was crafted and assembled in Mexico.
8. T4 “LICORICE” by Uma x Holloway Li
Uma and Holloway Li launched the retrofuturist T4 seat last fall in bright colorways inspired by candy-colored designs from the ’90s. For Alcova they reimagined the collaboration in “LICORICE”—which is, I suppose, still a candy color, but the black edition contrasts its vibrant siblings in the brutalist setting of the old slaughterhouse.
9. “Trace” by Studio Umut Yamac
London-based architect and designer Umut Yamac works with architecture and light to create movement and alter spatial awareness with his designs. TRACE weaves an alternate pathway up the staircase at Alcova’s La Villetta, with more than 2,000 meters of tensioned cord strung between the floors like a 3D drawing.
10. “Knitted Light” by Sangmin Oh / Osangmin Studio
Sangmin Oh is based in the Netherlands and Korea, where his multidisciplinary work aims to fill empty spaces with visual, often fantastical, stories. “Knitted Light,” created with the Textile Museum in Tilburg, is made with elastic monofilament thread to create contracting and expanding forms like radiant, healthy coral reefs.
11. “Act of a Line” by Marijke De Cock (RDMDC)
Antwerp-based designer Marijke De Cock specializes in the conception and creation of ornaments and jewelry. Act of a Line is a distinctive series of abstracted wall sculptures made of textiles woven with beads, glistening blue, gold, and iridescent oil black. The beaded works emerge in landscape-like hills and furrows based on hand-drawn, intuitive drawings.
12. “Light From Architecture” by MARIO TSAI
MARIO TSAI, an independent brand of the Mario Tsai Studio, is guided by experimental, flexible thinking around materials, structure, and sustainability to create soft minimalist products. Light From Architecture hides light sources in the structure of a larger architectural product. The collection is three lines: Pagoda, Bloom, and Grid Lighting.
13. “Espressionismo Floreale” by Laura Niubó
Espressionismo Floreale by Spanish, LA-based artist-designer Laura Niubó is a collection of her rugs and fine art prints and a selection of flora inspired lamps/NFTs, all created around the theme of rebirth of life through flowers. In colors and geometric shapes, Laura abstracts the natural reproductive part of a flower for a sinuous and dynamic sculpture.
14. “Neo-Vanity” by Kiki Goti
New York-based Greek designer Kiki Goti reimagines the dressing room in her Il Covo space, glorifying the act of getting ready as a tool for transformation and claiming autonomy. With hand-painted insulation foam and aluminum light fixtures in Balkan motifs inspired by Greek folkloric textiles, Kiki creates a space for personal transformation and communal empowerment.
15. “SENSBIOM II” by crafting plastics! studio & DumoLab Research
SENSBIOM II is the latest in crafting plastics! & DumoLab’s multidisciplinary research collaboration on interactive biomaterials. Hung from the ceiling, the installation consists of biopolymer lattices that change color to signal real-time changes in Ultraviolet Radiation. The installation makes invisible facts of our surroundings visible, aiming to connect us to our environment more consciously.
16. Vector by A-N-D Light
Under the central portico of the Galleria Bar at Alcova 2023 hung Vector by Lukas Peet for A-N-D Light. The fixture is made of laser cut steel elements joined together in the brutalist fixture. The slim, rectilinear elements are combined in either a smaller, three-piece pendant or a larger six-piece pendant, as well as table, wall, and floor lamps.