The Prada Transformer has flipped for the final time. We talk to Tomaso Galli, the project’s director, and review the highlights of this morphing Rem Koolhaas-designed pavilion.
Six months after it opened on a site in front of the 16th-century Gyeonghui Palace in Seoul, South Korea, the Prada Transformer is being dismantled. Piece by piece (it was constructed from 250 rods of steel and 3000 bolts covered in a membrane of elastic), it is, true to its name, morphing in shape one final time.
“The interesting thing about this building is the acknowledgement of the Transformer as a dynamic organism, opposed to simply a static object, which arbitrarily fits program,” says Rem Koolhaas of the pavilion he designed. He explains that the Transformer was designed “to be moulded in real time, depending on the specific programs it intends to facilitate inside.”
The programs he refers to were entirely cultural and, according to Tomaso Galli, the project’s director, embraced the “various worlds of Prada, which are fashion art, cinema (as a form of art), architecture and design.” As such, the project was divided into four phases, which saw four different incarnations of the building. Cranes were used to flip the tetrahedron onto one of its four sides - a hexagon, cross, rectangle and circle – each of which was designed with a specific event in mind.
“In my mind they may be mixed, but I want to keep them separate,” Muicca Prada told the International Herald Tribune of her passion for art, architecture, fashion and cinema. “I realize that he various threads are connected today and that people like fashion – there is a vitality.”
While Mrs. Prada was the driving force behind the project, the Transformer as it is was the result of a collaboration between Prada, Rem Koolhaas, and his Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). Koolhaas is closely involved with Prada on several design projects and OMA even designed the Prada Transformer’s website, which, like the building, also reinvented itself four times over the course of the project.
As we showcase the best of the Prada Transformer both inside and out, we talk to Tomaso Galli about Korea, the importance of architecture, and the close relationship between Prada and Rem Koolhaas.
Tomaso Galli’s definition of luxury?
Luxury is relative to individuals and to moments in life. It is something that positively impacts on a moment in someone's life.
If luxury were an object, what would it be?
Prada made-to-measure, head to toe.
If luxury were a place, where would it be?
Remote and inaccessible.
If luxury were a moment, when would it be?
When you get recognition for something good you've done.
If luxury were a person, who would it be?
What has been the mission of the Prada Transformer?
We had been thinking about doing something important in Asia for some time. The idea was that in Europe and the US, people have a good understanding of what Prada is about – fashion, art, architecture and the Prada Foundation; a multifaceted reality. We thought that not so many people in Asia had experienced that. At the time, it was before the Olympics in China and everyone was saying we had to do something in China. For us that meant China was a little too banal and crowded. Nobody was really saying much about Seoul and Korea, which made it more interesting. It’s not that we sat down one day and said, “Let’s do the Prada Transformer in Seoul”. Rather, it was an evolutionary idea.
Tell us about the exhibitions, cinema, musical events and talks that have been held in the Transformer.
We wanted to touch on the various worlds of Prada, which are fashion, art, cinema (as a form of art), architecture and design. We started with an exhibition of skits called Waist Down. The second was a film festival which was conceived with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who is an amazing Mexican director. He selected 12 movies, most of which had never been seen in Korea, that were shown over 12 days. The third phase was an art exhibition of the work of Nathalie Juleberg who exhibited at the Prada Foundation in the spring of 2008 and who this year won the Silver Lion award at the Venice biennale. The final phase was what we called the Students Takeover, which was a completely different approach to the use of the Transformer. We gave the structure to dozens of students from various universities in Seoul, who thought about the theme of transformation. They spent two weeks working in the Transformer and at the end exhibited their work and had some amazing discussions in a less structured way.
Rem Koolhaas and OMA have been collaborating with Prada for over 10 years, designing stores and even catwalk shows. What is it about his work that fits so well with Prada?
Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli have the courage to experiment and innovate in design, in materials, in production, and distribution. They always strive to be new and different. They push the boundaries. And they do so not only in fashion, but also in other domains. In Rem Koolhaas they have found someone from the world of architecture who is the perfect partner to do that. I think they all share a multidisciplinary approach and the constant research for challenging assumptions and breaking conventions.
How did Prada’s relationship with Rem Koolhaas come about?
It all started at the end of the 90s, when Prada had the vision to explore the whole concept of shopping on new basis. Patrizio Bertelli thought about the possibility of involving architects and selected Rem Koolhaas as a potentially interesting person to work with. The response from Rem Koolhaas was exactly what Patrizio Bertelli had in mind at the time.
What else is Rem Koolhaas working on for Prada?
As you mentioned, OMA is involved in the design of the fashion shows architecture, in the development of various Prada websites, and in the new Prada Foundation headquarters in Milan.
The concept of a structure whose form is constantly morphing is a revolutionary idea in the world of architecture. What has this brought to the project more than a static structure would have done?
The project wouldn’t have been so successful if the architecture had been different. Our brief to OMA was to have a building that could accommodate different events over 6-month time period. The design was totally up to OMA. We had an initial design that we all liked, but in the end it changed completely when we finally obtained the location in the centre of Seoul in front of the Gyeonghui Palace. I think that the overall success of the project comes from the fact the architecture was unique, new, revolutionary and extraordinary. And it matched the content.
The Transformer has been an interactive project for Seoul’s students of the arts. Tell us about their work that has been showcased in the structure and the recent “Student Takeover”.
Students took part in the first phase which was the Waist Down exhibition. We selected nine fashion design schools in Seoul and their best students designed skirts that were displayed alongside those of Miuccia Prada. We saw amazing enthusiasm on the part of the people who participated and so we had in mind to have more involvement from students. For the final phase, the Students Takeover, Miuccia Prada pushed us to do something more meaningful, which would really involve students in a significant way.
Both Chanel and Louis Vuitton have also aligned themselves with contemporary art and architecture. Why is it so attractive for fashion brands to collaborate with other disciplines?
I don’t like to talk about other companies but I have to say that what Prada does is different to everybody else. First of all, the relationship between Prada and art is different. Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli are not just collecting art but they are producing it. When the Prada Foundation selects an artist, they work together to produce a new work. Typically, it’s something the artist never had the chance to do because it was not commercial enough, or too complicated, or too big for the space of a normal gallery or museum.
And why is it so attractive to work so closely with contemporary architects?
When Prada opened its Epicenter store in SoHo in 2001, the strategy for luxury brands at that time was to have stores that were exactly the same around the world, with the same display of merchandise and consistent architecture. Then Prada went to SoHo, a location where there were no other luxury stores, and where they opened a unique, huge store. It looked like a strange strategy but now you see it is what everybody is doing. Prada operates in a very different way to other fashion brands; historically Prada always anticipated and sometimes set the trends.
Whereas some brands might be accused of using art and architecture for marketing campaigns, at Prada there seems to be real synergy. How would you describe the relationship between Prada and contemporary art and architecture?
Very simply, there is integrity in all the things that Prada does. As I mentioned, Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli have a genuine interest in all these worlds beyond fashion. For them, it is never a marketing tool.
Who was the driving force behind the project? How much of the Prada Transformer is the vision of Mrs. Muccia Prada?
Definitely, from beginning to end it was Miuccia Prada. Patrizio Bertelli was quite involved too, as was Germano Celant, Artistic Director of the Prada Foundation. As I said, it wouldn’t have happened without Rem. In the end, the result was a collaboration between Prada and Rem Koolhaas/OMA.
You could have placed the Prada Transformer anywhere – why Seoul?
Seoul is a very interesting city that until recently hadn’t received the attention it deserved. When you look at Seoul a little bit deeper, you find that there is a very significant contemporary art community, with lots of artists, gallerists and art collectors. We found a city where architecture is playing a leading role in reshaping the city. There is an important movie industry. And finally, the fashion community is also important. Most importantly, when we started to meet people in the city government and spoke to them about the project, they embraced it in a major way. There was a lot of enthusiasm, which enabled us to secure a location in front of the Gyeonghui Palace.
There seems to be a special relationship between Prada and Korea, with the Transformer, the LG Prada phone and the Hyundai Prada car - what is the brand’s connection to the country?
When we started to work with LG on the phone in 2005, we had no idea about the Transformer project that would develop later. We had three great years of collaboration with LG and in the end they supported the Transformer. The fact that we had already worked in Korea was useful in the Transformer project but not a deciding factor.
Seoul’s mayor is known as a champion of contemporary design. Was he involved in the project at all?
He was not involved in the design of the project or the contents but he was involved in the sense that he made sure we got exactly the help that we needed. This wouldn’t have been possible without his involvement.
Will the Transformer move elsewhere?
The Transformer is currently being dismantled and will be shipped to Italy in future months. Where and how it is going to be used has not yet been decided.