For the past decade, Ventura Projects has become a Fuorisalone must-see during Milan Design Week. The program originated in 2010 as Ventura Lambrate, which transformed a former industrial site in Milan’s outer reaches into a vibrant design district. In 2017, it was rebranded as Ventura Centrale and relocated to the cavernous vaulted warehouses beneath the tracks leading into Milano Centrale Railway Station. Though each edition was met with critical acclaim and a full crowd scene, the company’s longevity was called into question when Salone del Mobile canceled its 2020 edition due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, Ventura Projects founder Margriet Vollenberg announced that it would cease operations as a result of the fair’s cancellation and uncertainty over future events. “It is with great sorrow that I’ve had to witness how the corona crisis has hit the entire world and event and design industry, and thus my company,” says Vollenberg, whose role as an organizer and coordinator during Milan Design Week spans more than two decades. “I spent many sleepless nights worrying about whether and how I could save or transform my company to adjust to a new normal to still be able to serve the design world and enable the talent as we have always done.” She went on to say that operating Ventura Projects was no longer financially feasible, leaving her no choice but to end the program.
Designers expressed shock and sadness upon hearing the news. Ventura Projects had long served as a launchpad for international talents, offering once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to realize ambitious design concepts that may not have been feasible elsewhere. “They gave color to Milan Design Week and visitors knew they could expect something good,” says Maarten Baas, whose award-winning installation for Lensvelt, called May I Have Your Attention, Please?, filled one of theMilano Centrale Railway Station’s warehouses with his new chairs for the brand—as well as megaphones that emitted a chorus of soft whispers to dramatic effect. “With the loss of Ventura Projects, a great catalyst has been lost.”
The Italian designer Luca Nichetto echoed Baas’s sentiments. He credits Ventura Projects for spurring his own professional growth, especially after his 2017 installation that he designed in collaboration with the glassmaker Salviati and perfumer Ben Gorham. Consisting of 53 lustrous totem poles created out of more than 23,000 sheets of glass, Nichetto’s installation reexamined the potential for traditional glasswork. “It was immediately clear to me that [Vollenberg] had a distinct vision on how Ventura Projects could help designers and brands, creating a platform to support their ideas,” says Nichetto. “We all had a pioneering spirit, great passion, and curiosity.”
In 2018, Surface celebrated its 25th anniversary at Ventura Centrale by partnering with Rockwell Group and the design studio 2×4 to create The Diner, a pop-up restaurant that honored the American diner’s rich iconography. The Diner offered a coast-to-coast journey across the United States through four distinct environments that evoke the country’s manifold aesthetic ideas. During the day, guests enjoyed quintessentially American food and drink and a conversation series. After dark, it transformed into a nightclub in which strangers unabashedly celebrated cultural differences. (On opening night, designer Brad Ascalon said “This place makes me not want to go to Bar Basso.” Yves Behar concurred: “Everyone here is happy.”)
Perhaps the tight-knit community that Ventura Projects fostered will form the cornerstone of its legacy. Attendees could easily rely on its boundary-pushing installations (and high-octane parties) to bring a welcome dose of levity to Milan Design Week’s nonstop chaos and event overload. “I look back with tremendous pride and gratitude on what my team and I have been able to accomplish,” says Vollenberg. “We sincerely hope that the energized atmosphere of global design events will return soon. More than ever, to cope with this crisis and the aftermath, the world is in need of the creativity, playfulness, and ingenuity that design can offer.”