Architecture and fashion collided during Milan Design Week, where Sou Fujimoto created a Forest of Light installation for fashion brand COS.
During Milan Design Week, the city’s sun-drenched streets bustled with endless showroom openings and other eye-popping displays, seemingly around every corner. Yet the most talked-about installation stood in stark contrast to all the clamour, carving out a moment of contemplation for those who ventured off the narrow sidewalks of via Pietro Mascagni.
Passing through the doors of a former theatre and between heavy black-out curtains, visitors entered another world. An ambient soundtrack by Alessandro Monaco filled the all-black room, and cones of light appeared to rise like a forest of pine trees through smoky air. Mirrors along three sides left the impression that the moody landscape went on forever. Some visitors snapped selfies; others meandered through the space in silence, triggering motion sensors that activated each beam as they walked through. Still others, like me, settled on the floor to simply soak up the tranquility.
The installation was commissioned by clothing brand COS, who gave Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto carte blanche to create an environment that would coincide with design week, when Milan is filled not with fashionistas but those who are more inclined toward the minimalist aesthetics that define the label. Fashion and architecture are “quite different-almost opposite,” Fujimoto told me when we met. “Maybe the only point they share is that both relate to our daily life-our body and our behaviours.”
To hone in on that connection, Fujimoto realized his choice of materials was key. “I wanted to create something independent of both. Architectural materials were too close to my field, and something like fabric is too close to fashion.” He eventually settled on light, a reference to both the location’s former life as a theatre and the glamour of the runway. It also played on visitors’ sense of scale; while the expanse of illuminated cones seemed endless, the circles of light on the carpeted floor were of human scale. “It’s very intimate, but at the same time you can take in the vastness. Both feelings come and go as the situation changes.”
Like many of Fujimoto’s own buildings, the Forest of Light installation looks like a simple concept, but its complexity is hidden in the details. In the days leading up to the opening, his team spent hours tweaking the spotlights. Adjustments of just 0.1 seconds are perceptible to the human eye. If the transitions were too quick, the changes would feel like light bulbs being switched off and on; too slow, and the impression would feel dull.
The effect ultimately achieved was kinetic yet organic, like clouds moving over a moonlit grove. Building with pure light seems like a natural evolution for Fujimoto, who has always made light central to his work. And while it may be little more than smoke and mirrors, the results are truly magical.
Click here for an extended version of our interview with Sou Fujimoto.